Activist John McAvoy pushes for performance auditsWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
If you’ve ever attended a public government meeting in Toledo, there’s a good chance you’ve seen John McAvoy.
Usually wearing a cowboy hat, he’s involved at several government levels — “a little bit of national, quite a lot of state and a whole lot of local,” he said.
“[Local is] where you can make the difference. You could spend $100,000 on a national election and make almost no impact at all. But, boy, if you spend $100,000 locally, you’re going to make some huge, huge impacts. Of course, I don’t have $100,000 to spend,” McAvoy said with a chuckle.
In 2011, McAvoy served as state coordinator of The Ohio Project in support of Issue 3, which opposed President Barack Obama’s health care bill. He is also one of the founding members of the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition (NWOCC), which provides support for smaller conservative groups around the region.
Performance audits are a passion of McAvoy’s, who pushed for Toledo Public Schools to undergo one after the district put a levy on the ballot in 2012.
The father of two and grandfather of “a whole bunch” compared performance audits to a parenting dilemma.
“When my kids come through the door and say, ‘Can I have $20, $50?’ I might give it to them, but odds are good I’m gonna say, ‘What did you do with the last $50 I gave you?’ or, ‘What do you need it for this time?’” he said.
The Ohio Auditor of State offers performance audits. These audits look at the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of programs to potentially make improvements and establish savings.
“[NWOCC] decided to push these because they’re an excellent management tool that’s actually not very well known. What we’re really doing is educating the community,” McAvoy said.
“[The idea to push the audits] started about two years ago. We knew that no one or very few people were doing performance audits so we knew people were going to start putting levies on [the ballot], so we just waited until the levies or the rates started being introduced.”
His latest local drive is pushing for a performance audit of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) after a potential increase in water rates was brought up. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified $300 million worth of upgrades and replacements needed for the city’s water system. About $260 million of that would be for plant upgrades in the next five years, according to Jen Sorgenfrei, the city’s public information officer.
“We have not finalized a rate model yet, but based on the timeline needed to address the EPA concerns we would need the rates to take effect no later than January 1, 2014 — however, sooner is better because as soon as we have the rates passed by Council we have the ability to borrow,” Sorgenfrei wrote in an email.
McAvoy said the NWOCC would push for the City of Toledo as a whole to be audited as well.
Sorgenfrei said of performance audits, “We’ve actually been doing benchmarking in public utilities and public service to find communities situated similarly to Toledo (population, attractions, services, etc.) that excel at service delivery, examine how they do what they do, and determine how we can successfully benchmark Toledo services against this. This has included looking at staff alignment, public education about the services we provide and changing how we go about delivering services to incorporate greater efficiency and better citizen access.
“We’re not ever against examining our performance, but there’s a difference between auditing performance and improving performance. … We’re always looking to do the latter.”
During a Toledo City Council meeting March 5, Councilwoman Lindsay Webb presented a first reading of legislation to put together a 10-person committee to further discuss the potential performance audit.
Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson said she expects legislation for putting the committee together to pass at the next Council meeting. She also said she believes the committee would be a broad representation of ratepayers in the area.
Hicks-Hudson added that it’s important to balance the potential need for a performance audit with the EPA’s recommendations to move forward at a safe speed.
“I don’t think it’s an either/or. The purpose of a performance audit is to see if there’s a way to do things better, more efficiently, and I think that’s a good thing to do,” she said.
When asked if an audit of the City of Toledo was needed, Hicks-Hudson said she wasn’t sure yet.
“It depends. I think you have to target [specific areas]. … We should look at our systems and make sure we are using taxpayer dollars wisely and being good stewards of it. … But the point is audits cost money, so I think we have to be sure we’re spending those dollars wisely,” she said.
McAvoy estimated that an audit of the DPU would cost about $150,000.
On a state level, McAvoy’s next move is serving as state coordinator for the potential Ohio’s Workplace Freedom Amendment, similar to Michigan’s right-to-work law.
“The Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment guarantees Ohioans have a choice in whether or not they join a labor union and pay dues or fees at their place of work as a condition of employment,” according to the group’s website.
McAvoy said, “This is probably one of the most important statewide issues. We don’t seem to be addressing it; we seem to be knocking the can down the road because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.”
“[Workplace Freedom] is top of the list for people coming into the state wanting to set up shop,” he said.
Hicks-Hudson said she’d have to see the amendment to say more, but from what she knows, “I’m on the other side of that argument. I believe that people should be able to associate and that unions do have a place in protecting workers and workers’ rights.”
McAvoy said he became involved in politics about 10 years ago. He partially attributed his interest to his parents. His father was an Irish immigrant and his mother is a second-generation citizen.
“The family did a pretty good job of instilling responsibility and leadership. … They pretty much left us a country that we could pretty much do anything we wanted to in. There were a lot of opportunities as long as you were a responsible person and I see that dwindling away,” he said.
When he’s not attending meetings, McAvoy works with computers, performing process control work in factories. McAvoy is also a Wood County resident, something that he has been criticized for, he said.
“I still own property over here in beautiful Toledo. … That’s usually when people start harassing me. They’ll say, ‘Oh, you don’t even live here.’ I’ll say, ‘Well, there’s a problem here. I pay taxes here, but I’m not allowed to vote here.’ Which even aggravates me more,” he said.
Still, McAvoy said he tries not to get in political fights with people.
“I don’t really fight people. I fight for what I think is right and if you’re opposing me in that, I’m sorry, I’m not going to fight you; I’m going to fight for what I think is right,” he said.
Linda Bowyer, who met McAvoy about four years ago through tea party activities, said, “John is a very personable guy. He really is a nice man and he’s very fun to be around and he’s not hostile. He’s not in people’s faces.”
When asked what she saw in the future for her friend, she said, “I think he wants to be a community organizer. I think he wants to get people involved in their government, especially locally.”
McAvoy said he’s been asked to run for office, but doesn’t want to. For now, he plans to keep attending meetings and being active in the community.
“This has been pretty much a fulltime job on a fulltime job on a fulltime job. I kind of, joking, tell people if you need to have something done … you should find a busy person and give it to them and they’ll get it done,” he said.