Congrats, Carty!Written by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t adjust your glasses or check the front cover to verify you’re reading my column in this newspaper. I haven’t been abducted by aliens and replaced by a Carty sympathizer. Regular readers of this space know that I have long ago written my way off of Carty’s Christmas card list. I just want to give credit where credit is due.
I’m talking about the mayor’s announcement Feb. 10 that he is asking City of Toledo employees to take voluntary reductions in hours and workdays, and even permanent layoffs to stem the city’s growing budget crisis.
Keyword: “asking.” Asking has never been the mayor’s strongpoint.
I heard about Carty’s request (that just sounds weird) watching the news on TV at the gym that evening. I looked down at the pulse monitor on my elliptical machine to see if my heart was racing, in which case I might be hallucinating, or if it read zero, in which case I had passed on to the afterlife. Neither.
For trained observers of the mayor, his asking for help from anyone — especially city employees — is a tectonic shift of a magnitude comparable to Gorbachev’s renunciation of communism, or Saul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus. Carty is consistently criticized for a dictatorial style. How many times have politicians told me, “Carty doesn’t listen to anyone”? This plea for help from the city’s employees is like a whiff of the kinder, gentler Carty we were promised during his last campaign in 2005. Even Finkbeiner’s harshest critics on Toledo City Council were giving his move the thumbs up: “I applaud Carty,” City Councilman D. Michael Collins told me. “I commend the administration for allowing participatory management to exist in the city for the first time. ”
The most heartening and humane thing about the mayor’s request is that it allows each individual to have some say in this critical life decision versus having it forced down their throats. Most of us in the working world don’t have the luxury of that choice, and City of Toledo employees should have some gratitude that, to some degree, with the mayor’s request, the ball’s in their court.
But it’s not all kudos and high-fives for the mayor. The SOS to city employees isn’t aimed at averting problems in the future. It’s to pay for — at best — the miscalculations of the past. After a contentious battle to close the books on 2008 by dipping into sacred-cow capital improvement funds, city council was told by Carty’s chief administrators on Jan. 29 that we’re still 8.1 million bucks in the hole from last year. And they’ve got until March 31 to plug that hole or the city faces the prospect of state receivership, an indignity no one wants to face.
One of three things led to the $8.1 million surprise: Either Carty’s people really screwed up on the city’s revenue projections, or they mustered the chutzpah to try to conceal the inevitable shortfall from the public and city council, and maybe even from the Mayor. Being the bearer of bad news to Carty does not make for a cheery day. A medically unnecessary root canal might be preferable.
Or third, Carty was told, and turned an optimistic eye away.
My money is on some combination of the three.
Councilman Collins suspects Carty’s aides knew the potential size of the deficit when council was battling with the first $8 million shortfall. “They knew in December,” he said. “I’m positive.”
Councilman George Sarantou thinks the Finkbeiner administration knew long ago. “I believe the finance department knew how grim the situation was, and the 22nd floor made a judgment call not to do layoffs [in the last quarter of 2008],” he said. “They knew how bad things were, but they took a chance.”
Whatever the Finkbeiner administration knew and whenever they knew it, they’ve now got to carve out more than $8 million, and they have to do it fast. The savings have to come between today and March 31. It’s like an unexpected bill for $8 million due in six weeks.
Carty’s gesture allowing city employees to help determine their destiny is commendable, albeit uncharacteristic. Is it an 11th-hour emergence of a kinder, gentler Carty? Doubtful, but we’ll see.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.