Carty, in shades of grayWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Remember the story about the three blind men in a room with an elephant? One, feeling the trunk, thinks he has a snake. Another, holding the ear, believes he has a fan. The third, touching a thick leg, is convinced he has a tree. Only after putting their information together do the men realize they have an elephant.
The ongoing stories of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s involvement with Costco and a drive to raise incentives to retain TPS Superintendent Eugene Sanders are vivid examples of several entities — the media, politicians and the public — feeling their way around without enough information to make an informed decision.
Last Wednesday, Toledo Free Press Publisher Tom Pounds and I were called and asked to meet with the mayor. No topic for the meeting was offered, but it was easy to guess; in addition to breaking the Sanders news, we wrote an editorial chastising the mayor for his perceived foot-dragging over the Costco living wage waiver approved by City Council, and questioning the promise of his pro-business campaign.
We were not expecting the mayor to offer us a key to the city.
But once we were ushered into the mayor’s office, we were pleasantly surprised to receive an hour of ”education,” as the mayor phrased it.
Finkbeiner, with Andy Ferrara, manager of the city’s manager of real estate, walked us through the mayor’s reasons for threatening the living wage waiver. As outlined in this week’s cover story, a whole lot of honey has been given away to Costco, and Finkbeiner is rightfully concerned about the impractical standards being set. Finkbeiner talked about the $7.2 million in lost taxes, the revenue Washington Local schools will never see, and the apt comparison to the Wal-Mart store on Glendale Avenue, which, according to the mayor, funded its own brownfield clean-up and street improvements, with no tax abatement. Stack that against Costco’s 15-year 100-percent property tax abatement, and Wal-Mart looks less like Dracula and more like, well, Dracula on a very good day.
The mayor admitted his administration was slow in getting this information out; the $7.2 million tax loss figure had just been given to City Council, and they certainly did not beat the drum about it.
We then talked with the mayor about the Sanders story. We have heard for about three weeks Finkbeiner was involved in raising private funds to keep Sanders in Toledo. No one wanted to go on the record (no one ever does), and we do not generally publish stories with un-named sources, so the story was in limbo. When some research revealed that any direct involvement by Finkbeiner could, according to the Ohio Revised Code, be a misdemeanor and result in his ouster from office, we tried, repeatedly, contacting the mayor for comment.
He was traveling and busy and yadda yadda yadda, but he did confirm discussions about Sanders took place, and we were able to collect enough information to break the story.
The Blade, with its greater resources, has done a tremendous job following up on our original story; sometimes, our role is going to be to break the first wave of the story and as we pursue follow-up, shape our future reports trying to stay ahead of their daily coverage.
Finkbeiner patiently walked us through the timeline of his meetings with the Committee of the Whole and several business leaders, explaining the options being discussed included a summer teaching position at UT, a car and an insurance annuity funded by private donations. The mayor talked about his respect for Sanders, the cost of replacing him and the impact of the community losing another African-American role model (after, ironically, Jack Ford).
Armed with context and comment, we are better informed to make editorial judgments. It’s a simple equation, even though we understand Finkbeiner cannot run to the media with every in-development project for fear of jeopardizing the negotiations. Nonetheless, if there’s nothing inappropriate happening, why not provide enough insight to keep the rumors at bay?
Throughout our conversation, I was impressed with how calm, informative and reasonable Finkbeiner was, although I missed the fiery passion of the ”old Carty.”
It makes the Kool-Aid a bit more palatable, at least as it is being poured.
As we said our goodbyes, standing on the carpet seal of the city, Finkbeiner added a postscript about getting involvement from people to move the city forward. He pounded his fist in his palm and used the locker room metaphors that communicate much more directly than political droning.
The passion is still there; the difference is, Finkbeiner sees more than black and white. He understands the elephant offers many shades of gray.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.