Carty fiddled while …Written by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Legend has it that back in 64 A.D., a guy named Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus wiled away the hours singing onstage in full costume while the city of Rome was being ravaged by fire. Problem was, Nero was the emperor of Rome. He should have had his mind on more pressing matters, like the fire that was destroying the center of his Roman Empire. It was his attention to the silly stuff in a time of crisis that led to the saying, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”
Fast forward 1,945 years and 4,648 miles to Toledo. A contributing columnist for a weekly newspaper is listening to the radio and hears Mayor Carty Finkbeiner boasting that Toledo is on a list of 31 cities being considered for the “All-America City” Award given annually by the National Civic League. Contributing columnist scratches his head and wonders if he’s been asleep for 20 years ala Rip Van Winkle. He feels certain that the Toledo he knows is facing a $28 million (and growing) budget deficit, laying off police officers and firefighters, can’t fix potholes in residential streets, and that its elected leaders are at loggerheads with nearly all of their unions.
All-America City, huh? Sounds more like an “All-Banana Republic City” from where I’m sitting.
After making the announcement on April 3 that Toledo made the top 31, Finkbeiner bristled at reporters’ questions about who was paying for the prospective All-America distinction. “Let me stay on the positive side and let me suggest that you guys get a life,” Finkbeiner shot back.
Maybe they’ve got lives, Mr. Mayor, unlike the virtual-reality life of chasing little-known awards of little-recognized value from organizations little-known outside the world of career politicians and award plaque makers.
While the costs associated with nomination for the All-America City Award are minute in the grand scheme of things, the “who’s paying for it?” questions the reporters posed to the mayor were legitimate. If the All-America City Award is so important, the Finkbeiner Administration certainly hasn’t left it in the hands of an unpaid intern. Somebody on the city’s payroll (who’s now getting paid for only 36 hours a week) had to prepare the nomination documents. Somebody’s got to organize the trip to Tampa, Fla. to make the presentation. Somebody being paid by Toledo taxpayers has to coordinate the whole thing.
When you can’t afford it, you do without. And you can do without awards. When I was a reporter at WTVG in 1991, tough times led management to eliminate our promotions department. There was no one to get our entries in for The Emmys, The Crystals and other media industry awards. No nominations sent in, no awards received. We continued to do good work, and today 13 ABC is doing just fine, thank you.
But this isn’t at all about the money; it’s about focus. And facing reality. And the reality is that not a penny should be spent nor a moment of mental energy committed to anything — anything at all — but balancing the budget, maintaining safety and services, and creating jobs. With the shape Toledo is in, awards are meaningless window dressing. An outsider barely has to scratch beneath the “Award Winning” surface to discover that Toledo has a lot of work to do before it can start strutting its stuff. And I would challenge anyone to cite a company looking to relocate that started its search with a list of All-America City Award recipients. I’ll go further; show me one company that even cares.
Who does care? mayors of other cities. And they’re not going to send us any jobs. Probably not even a decent referral.
This left-field distraction is indicative of a leadership issue for a city in crisis. And it reveals leadership that is unqualified to handle the crisis. As James Allen, the author of “As a Man Thinketh” wrote: “Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him.”
Like the Rome of 64 A.D., Toledo is in a firestorm, and our top elected official fiddles.
Historical footnote: During the conflagration of Rome, the verse Nero reportedly performed was Homer’s poem titled “Sack of Ilium.”
What we’re witnessing here in Toledo is a sack of something else.
Contact columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.