Fred steps upWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
I have an affinity for men and women who are unafraid to stand up, point to a wrong, and say, “This is wrong.”
Think about Frank Serpico, who battled police corruption, and Jeffrey Wigand, who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry. It is a line of American bravery that extends back to Thomas Paine and runs through Upton Sinclair, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and beyond. Such people, who risk careers, reputations and lives, who surmount peer pressure and self-preservation instincts to protect others, are heroes.
Fred Kutz does not stand among these people, and he is no hero.
Kutz’s March 22 last-hour, grandstanding appeal has delayed a private business’s plans to demolish a building on its property. Kutz will cost taxpayers and the community’s most vulnerable citizens an inestimable amount of money at a time when every dollar is a crucial thread in the rope of solvency.
It is every person’s right — duty — to stand up and question government, challenge authority and protect the greater good. But when that gambit is played without education, without information, without knowledge, the results will miserably affect lives well beyond the intentions of the wannabe activist.
In other words, there is a universe of difference between Karen Silkwood and Opal Covey, and the intellect incapable of immediately intuiting that contrast is the fabled bull in the China shop of society.
On March 22, Kutz filed the only appeal to the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission that challenged the commission’s March 11 vote (3-2) to allow United Way of Greater Toledo to demolish the abandoned building that sits on its Downtown campus.
Kutz said he has not toured the dilapidated building to learn of its condition. Kutz has not met with United Way President and CEO Bill Kitson to learn about the organization’s needs and plans. Nor has Kutz, according to United Way officials, ever met with any United Way representative at any time to learn about the agency’s goals and the consequences of maintaining its former headquarters. Kutz did not, in the nearly two dozen letters to the editor published in The Blade, ever once reference United Way in any context or offer any solution or ideas.
Yet on March 22, Kutz took it upon himself to throw a lone monkey wrench in United Way’s plans to free itself from the costly burden of the damaged building. Why?
Kutz told Toledo Free Press he “read about the 4:45 p.m. deadline in The Blade,” and he “saw no one else stepping-up.”
Well, sir, maybe that’s because unlike you, all of the principals involved have been educated and made intelligent decisions. This particular metaphorical seesaw has, on one side, the United Way Board of Trustees (some of the greatest philanthropic minds in the city), the United Way president and CEO, the Stranahan family (which funded the building), Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, the majority of Toledo City Council, the Plan Commission, the majority of the Lucas County commissioners, the Historic Commission, and, less importantly but notably, media pundits from WTOL-TV, WSPD and Toledo Free Press. On the other side of the seesaw, their feet dangling way up in the air, are the anonymous editorial writers at The Blade and Kutz.
It is frightening that Kutz, who has unsuccessfully sought several public offices, apparently did no more research on this topic than it took to parrot a March 22 Blade editorial, “No rush for the wrecking ball.”
In his interview with Toledo Free Press, Kutz regurgitated several Blade talking points, including comparing United Way’s quest to the recent troubles faced by the YMCA/JCC, worrying the property will be sold to a developer for “big bucks,” contesting the Plan Commission vote because it was “close” and questioning the “sensitivity” of the charity. He also made the statement that “public funding is involved,” when that is absolutely untrue.
Sing to the choir
And what about the March 22 editorial that Kutz hitched his wagon to?
In the first sentence, The Blade reminds its droogies that the Plan Commission vote was “close.” So what? Whether you lose a vote by one or 100, a vote is a vote, right?
The next Blade strategy is to tar Kitson and Co. with the YMCA/JCC brush. That is bizarrely inappropriate, as (aside from the fact that it assumes the Y is an unpopular institution, when its latest fundraising campaign success indicates the opposite) not one of the issues that characterized that controversy — supposed lack of community dialogue, nepotism and perceived high salaries — applies to United Way. But like The Blade invokes “Noe” when it wishes to impugn a politician, it will apparently use the Y to question nonprofits that don’t behave, even when those nonprofits have a history of taking anxious, timorous steps to appease the daily.
The Blade then offers some numbers that, according to United Way officials, simply do not add up: “The United Way’s projected savings of more than $200,000 a year in maintenance costs from demolishing its architecturally unique former headquarters has to be balanced against the approximately $250,000 in income lost per year (based on a modest 5 percent return) when the more than
$5 million in principle and interest borrowed to build the bland new headquarters is repaid out of the nonprofit organization’s board-discretionary fund.”
I love that The Blade describes the new building as “bland” and without charm. Functional, yes. Modest, yes. But did The Blade expect United Way to construct a private IMAX screen, a helicopter pad and maybe a moat and some fancy turrets? Can you imagine how screechingly The Blade would have cried foul if the new building sheltered a single perceived luxury? Actually, an IMAX screen could have replaced the historic Downtown Paramount Theater that was destroyed to make room for what The Blade described as “a modern and attractive parking lot.”
Back to the numbers. First, according to United Way officials, the $200,000 savings is on what it would cost to keep an empty building. The cost to stay in the old building, with its cracked foundation, leaky, moldy top floor, antiquated roof and heating/cooling system and ADA noncompliant restrooms, is described as “astronomical”: a $400,000 annual loss without renovations. The Blade claimed the United Way borrowed $5 million on its new building, but officials say that number is
$3.5 million. Clearly, the new building was the correct financial move, especially if those old-building numbers are run out 20 years.
But The Blade and Kutz, Toledo’s own Errin’ Block-ovich, are more concerned with an antibusiness, anti-private property agenda than in listening to reason.
Both Kutz and the anonymous Blade writer (anonymous, but we can make an educated guess on the identity, can’t we?) fret about the United Way’s future plans for the property, beyond building a green space.
Again, so what? First, it’s United Way’s property, so they have a right to do with it as they want. Does The Blade think the United Way could make any move on the property that its board and 3,598 government bodies wouldn’t check and balance?
The Blade and Kutz claim Councilman Joe McNamara has a developer all lined up, just waitin’ to plunk money down on the building, but that is surprising news to United Way, which has been publicly trying to get out from under this burden for many years.
McNamara has yet to realize how much political capital and goodwill he has burned away while wasting time on this topic. If you have a buyer, Joe, produce him. United Way officials say no one who has asked for a showing or meeting has asked for a second meeting or showing, probably because they are still trying to get the stench of mold and crumbling brick out of their hair.
It is also telling that The Blade, McNamara and Kutz are more preoccupied with such navel-gazing concerns as skylines and sentiment for bricks when there is real community money at stake.
Kids vs. bricks
Kutz’s ill-conceived, uneducated action will cost taxpayer money as city council again, again, again has to sift through this. United Way funds will continue to drain away in the shadow of its closed building. Kutz will never know which family seeking food, shelter or clothing will have to make do with a little less. Kutz will never know what consequences that family will pay, with its peace of mind, physical health and ability to build for the future. Kutz will never hear a single stomach rumble or dry a single tear or pay for a single missed opportunity.
There are heroes, armed with conviction and knowledge, who dare to stand in front of the oncoming tanks to protest abuse. Then there are the children of Canute, who stand in front of the ocean, trying to order back the waves.
In the matter of United Way’s private property rights, Kutz and The Blade are all wet.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: United Way