People over processWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s funny what people begin to tell you when you get out of the news business.
They begin to tell you the behind-the-scenes truth. And they begin to tell you how they really feel about what’s going on.
If political and business leaders told me on the record when I was a reporter what they’ve told me off the record since I became just another local business owner, I might have enough Emmys and Pulitzers to sink a cruise ship.
A lot of Toledo’s leaders — I’m talking the real leaders, not the ones we elected — are agonizing in private discussions, trying to find a way to end the escalating craziness in political leadership that’s screwing up our hometown.
One idea that’s being floated privately is going back to a city manager form of government. The proponents’ argument revolves around this question: “Are you better off today (era of strong mayor) than you were in 1988 (era of city manager)?” Revisiting the city manager idea stems from the belief that a city manager can’t be manipulated and corrupted by politicos and publishers as easily as a mayor whose office has significant authority.
Solid argument, but here’s the problem: It’s not about the process. It’s about the people. And we have the wrong people running the process. We have since we voted to go back to a strong mayor form of government in 1992.
Back then, I was the chief political reporter at WTVG. In 1992, Toledoans voted to boot the city manager form of government and give the mayor a lot of authority. (Historical refresher: It used to be the mayor was just another member of a city council that told the city manager what to do. Now, it’s the council trying to keep the mayor from doing whatever he damned well pleases.)
Covering the strong mayor campaign on a near-daily basis, I had some pretty strong misgivings about the proposal. It wasn’t the idea of having a mayor with executive powers that I objected to. It was the people behind the move for change. Carty Finkbeiner. Jack Ford. And behind it all, the publisher of The Blade, John Block. The Blade’s publisher tried to get the idea passed in 1988, but we voters said no. He got his way in 1992.
On one occasion in 1992, Carty read me the riot act, saying “We” felt my coverage was biased against the strong mayor proposal. When I asked Carty on the record whether he’d run for mayor if the strong mayor proposal passed, he told me “This is not about Carty Finkbeiner.”
One year later, Carty became Toledo’s first “strong mayor” in modern times. Eight years later it was Jack Ford. Four years later, Carty redux.
The strong mayor proponents back in 1992 made one argument that made sense to me: If you gave the mayor and council real power (and the accompanying salary hikes) the jobs would attract people of quality to run for office who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in the jobs. Great logic if it’s applied to a perfect world. Better jobs should attract better people — those talented Toledoans who’ve stayed under the radar because the ceremonial job of mayor and rubber-stamp positions on council were not worth the hassle associated with public life.
Didn’t happen. Not even close.
And since our choices haven’t changed, all we did in 1992 was give the same people better jobs and much larger salaries.
Why are the people more important than the process? Strictly from a job-attraction standpoint, I’ll leave you with this:
A couple of months ago I had a meeting in Columbus with the director of a top Ohio economic development agency, The Ohio Business Development Coalition. He is also a vice president at Procter & Gamble, on loan to the state.
Out of the blue — not even directly related to what we were discussing — he blurted, “… and you’ve got that mayor up there who’s crazy.”
He wasn’t smiling and he didn’t think he was being cute when he said that. He had nothing to gain by saying that. And this is a guy in a prime position to steer businesses toward Toledo. Or not.
Makes you wonder how many opportunities we’ve missed.
It’s about people, not the process.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.