Another block in the wall, part IIIWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Dear Mr. Miller,
I appreciate the courage of your recent articles criticizing the mayor and daily newspaper over their United Way building stance, but you’re starting to sound like a broken record.
Dear Mr. Fish,
At this point, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is impervious to criticism. He survived the controversies over the Marines, the Erie Street Market and the attempted murder of his dog Scout, whom he habitually locks in his car (the most recent transgression was reportedly at an “Extreme Makeover” celebration just a few days ago. I would have loved it if ABC had footage of Ty Pennington taking a sledgehammer to Carty’s car to rescue Scout). But just when you believe Carty can’t stoop lower …
United Way recently kicked off its local three-county campaign, with an ambitious
$15 million goal. This community needs every dollar its charitable organizations can muster, so you’d think the city’s top elected official would pitch in with his presence and support.
But at the Sept. 3 campaign launch at Owens Corning, Carty was nowhere to be found. He reportedly turned down the invitation to make an appearance at a local school. Instead of being there to thank United Way and the volunteers gathered to help the community, Carty chose a function with less community impact.
If Carty doesn’t want to actively support United Way as he blocks, pun intended, its plans to demolish its decrepit headquarters and build a more efficient facility, well, OK, I guess. But common sense and civility should prevent the mayor from actively undermining United Way’s fundraising, right?
As it turns out, nope. Just as United Way most needs support and solidarity in its mission to focus on the campaign and raise funds for the community, Finkbeiner engineers a publicity stunt that actively sabotages that effort.
On Sept. 9, Carty’s pals at The Blade gave him space on Page One to make this announcement: “Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said … he plans to ask the United Way of Greater Toledo to not demolish its building for at least two to three years to allow a feasible preservation solution to be found.”
That is perfect government logic: “So, you found a way to save money and be more efficient? Let’s put that off for three years!”
Here’s what Blade reporter Kate Giammarise told you: “Mr. Finkbeiner made his announcement last night at a special joint meeting of the Toledo City Historic District Commission, Vistula Historic District Commission and the Old West End Historic District Commission. The groups passed a joint resolution asking the United Way to reconsider its decision and asking it to try to sell the building.”
Special joint meeting? They were smoking something, that’s for sure. I was unable to find any Web sites or Yellow Pages listings for any of the three preservation groups, but I did track down Clement Chuckwu, an associated planner and city employee who said he handles inquiries for all three groups. It’s convenient that the mayor has such employees and groups close at hand and on the public payroll, isn’t it?
Chuckwu said he would provide a list of all three groups’ members and contact information, but did so after this article went to press.
Astute followers of this story may have noticed that neither of the region’s two legitimate historical societies, the Maumee Valley Historical Society nor the Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor, have made it their business to publicly condemn or praise United Way’s proposal.
More to the story
Here’s what Blade reporter Kate Giammarise did not tell you: That resolution the groups passed? The mayor apparently wrote it. So, he arranges this meeting, which reportedly had no other agenda of its own, arranges for a Blade reporter to be there, grandstands, exits and helpfully leaves behind a resolution for the antique fetishists to read like parrots echoing their drunken captor.
Giammarise reports members of the group “were wearing T-shirts with a picture of the building and the word ‘Save.’ ”
And I thought my “Star Wars” friends were nerds.
Here is an interesting Carty quote, from the Giammarise story: “We don’t have a lot of people building buildings of that dimension and stature in downtown and every time we tear one down, we destroy the fabric of the central business district.”
Well, Carty, have you stopped to think that your obstructionist, business-hostile administration is a major reason we do not have a lot of people building Downtown? And when you say, “destroy the fabric of the central business district,” do you mean your office and The Blade’s office? That’s the closest neighbor, right? The mayor blusters but offers no financial solution. Not one hint of an idea. Maybe he’ll follow his Erie Street Market model and stow away enough checks each worth $9,999 so the city, by which I mean taxpayers, can buy the building without going through city council.
I requested an interview with Carty to talk about this subject, but we had not worked out a time before this was written. Oh, by the way, as of this writing, Carty had not yet toured the building, so he’s still making strong comments about a structure he hasn’t fully explored. He was scheduled to tour the building Sept. 12, a Friday, but how can he back down now?
That tour, by the way, was originally scheduled for a Thursday, the Toledo Free Press news deadline, but I’m sure that had no influence on the decision to postpone the tour for a more friendly story in Saturday’s Blade.
On Sept. 10, I requested an interview with Blade Publisher John Block to talk about this subject. His Pittsburgh-based assistant, Joan Ardisson, returned my call and asked me to submit written questions Block could review.
Here are the questions I submitted:
1. Have you had an opportunity to see the inside of the United Way (Stranahan) Building? If not, do you plan to?
2. Did any representatives from United Way approach you before announcing their proposal to demolish the building?
3. Is it true that during a car ride with developer Larry Dillin and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, when Finkbeiner mentioned the building was coming down, you responded, “I won’t allow that to happen”?
4. With an understanding of The Blade’s heritage of preservation, what about this specific building merits saving it when it costs the charity $400,000 each year in maintenance?
5. Which local politicians have contacted you to discuss this project? Mayor Finkbeiner? County commissioners? City councilmen?
6. Are you directly involved with editing stories on this topic or dictating page placement?
On Sept. 11, I received, via e-mail and hand delivery, a three-page response from Block. It was mostly a platform to insult Toledo Free Press and my work specifically. The letter contained a lot of vaguely and directly threatening language, and centered on the notion that my submitted questions were intended to make Block look bad.
But that outcome would be dependent on the answers, wouldn’t it?
The kicker was that, across the top of the letter, Block wrote, “Not For Publication.”
Toledo Free Press attorneys advised us that’s not enforceable; I never agreed to those terms, and I am in no way under Block’s influence or rule.
But Fred Brown, vice chair of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, told us if the public official said not to publish the content of the letter, it should not be published. Brown said we could face ethical issues by publishing the letter as is or in a paraphrased form.
The entire point of this opinion series is to illustrate the abuse of ethics and lack of standards that has governed The Blade’s coverage of the United Way story.
By publishing Block’s letter — which would be very satisfying personally, as to me it illustrates a number of his less admirable tendencies — I would be violating the very standard of ethics I am trying to espouse.
It sucks, and I have no doubt Block knew his self-forged restriction would suck, but I cannot publish his comments, even if I am protected by the law.
In a way, Block responded publicly Sept. 11, when The Blade followed Carty’s manufactured news with an editorial, “No haste for waste.”
The Blade describes the decision to demolish the building as “rash,” which it was not, and “hatched in secret,” which it was not. The Blade describes itself as “the leading proponent of preserving the … structure,” which it is, then says Carty’s three preservationist groups “know well the value of preservation.”
Well, sure, if you mean preserving the mayor’s favor.
The Blade then insults one of the region’s great philanthropic boards by writing, “it lacks … municipal movers and shakers with the vision to look beyond the immediate desires of its executive leadership.”
Hey, Blade, the “immediate desires of its executive leadership” is to move past your hostility and get back to raising funds for local families. That board, by the way, contains leaders from such businesses as ProMedica, FirstEnergy, Fifth Third Bank and Owens Corning. Nope, no movers and shakers there.
The Blade then adds, “the costs cited by United Way for demolition and construction of a new building one-fourth the size don’t, to our way of thinking, add up.”
We should talk sometime about the financial “way of thinking” of Block Communications, which according to Editor & Publisher is among “the list of companies whose debt Moody’s now rates as junk bonds, or just one notch above junk.”
Maybe “Just One Notch Above Junk” should replace “One of America’s Great Newspapers” on The Blade’s front page.
Two cents from San Diego
That same issue of The Blade coincidentally published a letter written by former city planner Michael Young, who chose to express his desire for preservation by bad-mouthing United Way CEO Bill Kitson. His letter says Kitson has “no appreciation” for the building’s “role in Toledo’s civic history” and calls him a “temporary agency head” who will leave a “permanent scar” on Toledo by tearing down a “landmark” and replacing it with a “pedestrian” structure.
The arrogance is breathtaking; trying to make Kitson the face of the controversy, thereby making him a target, takes the discussion from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. It’s a low-road tactic that plays right into The Blade’s history of bullying. Young, who lives in San Diego, was used as a source in an Aug. 16 Giammarise Blade story. In that story, he said he remembers the building’s “mysterious castle-like profile.”
Which castle? Castle Dracula?
When do you suppose was the last time Young dropped by the building to see the extent of the disrepair? What grand results of his 16 years as city planner give him the authority to reach out all the way from San Diego to smack a man who is leading Toledo’s United Way?
If United Way succeeds in its quest to demolish its failed building, and Kitson resigns the same day the wrecking ball knocks that loser to the ground — let’s say, for fun, to flee for a post in San Diego — what difference does that make to the organization’s goal of saving money and being more efficient with a new structure? What is Young’s motivation in attacking Kitson personally?
Young, by the way, has another connection to this story: He teamed with Paul Sullivan, The Blade’s preservationist source who fought the construction of Fifth Third Field, to sue to keep Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral from demolishing its privately owned building.
I wonder how Young would feel if he opened the San Diego Union-Tribune and read a letter about himself dripping with the vitriol and contempt his letter showed for Kitson.
Confessions, part III
I have accepted two speaking engagements to talk about the aid my family received from United Way in 1985. One is for the campaign kickoff at Fifth Third bank. The other is for the Area Office on Aging.
Also, at the Sept. 3 United Way kickoff breakfast, I drank a glass of orange juice and ate one pancake and one strip of bacon. I also took a table centerpiece Pink Panther beanie baby for my 2-year-old son.
The Blade thought Carty’s news was important enough for Page One (it even pushed a Seneca County Courthouse story to the Second News section), but here’s something else Giammarise has never told you: three Toledo councilmen have toured the building, and two of them agree that United Way’s proposal should be allowed to proceed.
The third is waffling like he’s hot for Mrs. Butterworth.
Demolishing the building is the agency’s best option if it is unable to sell the structure, Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou said. Sarantou toured the building Aug. 25. He told Toledo Free Press Managing Editor Justin R. Kalmes renovations to the building would be “extremely expensive.”
“Clearly, building a new structure based on the information I saw would be much more advantageous in the long run,” Sarantou said. “It would take two decades for them to recoup the cost of remodeling this building … Economically, [remodeling] is not a good deal for the United Way. If the building can’t be sold, then their best option would be to demolish the building and build a new headquarters next door.”
The structure United Way has proposed is “stunning” and would add value to Downtown, he said.
Councilman Mike Craig, who also toured the building recently, said the structure is in “dire need of a lot of maintenance work.” In addition to cosmetic fixes, Craig said the building needs a new roof and cooling tower, among other things.
“[The building] needs to be completely fixed, or they need to build a new one,” Craig said. “I can fully understand where they are coming from and it’s their decision to make.”
Craig said the building’s historic value is questionable.
“I would hesitate to call it a landmark and I wouldn’t call it a historic landmark,” he said.
Councilman Joe McNamara toured the building but did not return Toledo Free Press calls for comment. Kitson said after McNamara toured the building, he said he would have to “think about” his decision.
Here’s something else Giammarise has not reported: Tom Crothers, president of the Greater Downtown Business Partnership, sent a letter to Kitson and United Way board member Bob LaClair “expressing our support during the challenging decision-making process they are facing in this matter.”
Three councilmen and a major development group offer opinions that conflict with The Blade’s, and that goes unreported, but a dozen “preservationists” in matching T-shirts warrant Page One?
This continuing abuse of media power, the continuing ineptitude of the mayor and the continuing silence of the business community must be addressed.
So, Mr. Fish, I may sound like a broken record, but as long as Toledoans sleepwalk to the same old song, I’m going to scratch that needle across the vinyl until enough people wake up and request a different tune.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.