Pounds: Nexus nixedWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
One week after a report described Toledo as one of “America’s Emptiest Cities,” Toledo City Council showed the world why there is more motivation to leave the city than there is to invest here. In a stunning and arrogant vote July 31, Council failed to approve the Nexus Academy of Toledo’s request to open a charter school Downtown.
Council voted 6-4 to deny permission to Nexus, owned by the national company Connections Education, to open a charter school on the fourth floor of One Lake Erie Center, 600 Jefferson Ave.
The decision bolsters every impression that Toledo is not business friendly and will undoubtedly discourage untold other enterprises from considering investing in Downtown.
Led by Toledo Public Schools loyalist Steve Steel, fellow shortsighted and insensate Council members Lindsay Webb, Phil Copeland and Adam Martinez voted against the special-use permit that would have allowed Nexus to open. Paula Hicks-Hudson was on vacation. Tyrone Riley chose to abstain, which sealed the charter school’s fate.
Council rules state that “A member abstaining at a regularly scheduled Council Meeting shall do so only in the event of a conflict of interest.” Riley gave no such reason, and in fact, on July 3, voted in favor of waiving the minimum 30-day period for the special-use permit Nexus was seeking. If Riley had a conflict, why did he vote for that ordinance on July 3?
Riley told Toledo Free Press on Aug. 1 he had a “prior business arrangement with a business adjacent to that property (the restaurant Our Brothers Place) and I wanted to avoid any type of impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. If I voted one way or the other, it may give someone the impression that I was trying to protect one of the local establishments.”
Riley said he voted for the 30-day waiver July 3 because, “I was still in this prior business arrangement with one of the adjacent properties at the time and I just didn’t realize that may be a conflict.”
But he later added, “I made a mistake in not completely understanding this rule of Council. My vote was inconsistent. I didn’t have a complete handle on the rule of Council. Both sides had compelling arguments and I was thinking, ‘OK,’ they’re both compelling,’ and I just abstained and that was a mistake on my part.”
Steel claimed the special-use permit should be denied because the Nexus Academy location would be within 1,000 feet of convenience stores. But before the vote, Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission Director Tom Lemon told Council that because the building Nexus wanted to locate is within an entertainment district, the spacing requirements regarding convenience stores would not apply.
Ignoring that simple fact, Steel, Webb, Copeland, Martinez — and passively, Riley — voted against jobs, education and development.
“Some of [the charter schools] that are in that core Downtown area have been there since longer than I was voting, certainly. We should be very cautious about it whenever you have kids that are walking around a bunch of adult-oriented establishments,” Steel told Toledo Free Press on Aug. 1. “I have voted yes on special-use permits for charter schools. I would have the same objection if TPS wanted to go in. It has to do with children, a lot of kids going to and from school are unsupervised. That’s why we have coding in the law about adult-oriented establishments.”
“The spacing requirement for carryouts is bogus to begin with. We’ve vilified carryouts and now, by association, we’ve vilified schools that want to go near carryouts,” Councilman Tom Waniewski told Toledo Free Press on Aug. 1. “Here’s a charter school that wants to do business and we’re saying, ‘Mmm, you can’t because there are carryouts around.’ If you just came here from another planet and you didn’t know my colleagues on Council, you might be scratching your head saying, ‘What are you talking about?’
“We’ve got people on City Council who have no concept of business and are merely voting for stupid reasons. The other stupid reason is some of them on Council have a bias against charter schools so they are too intricately tied to TPS and are afraid of the competition.
“A recent study showed we are one of the poorest cities to do business with. This adds to that. Why are we telling businesses how to run their business? Selling [cigarettes and alcohol] to minors is illegal, so let’s enforce those laws that we have rather than create these artificial pieces of duct tape. We’re not the morals police.”
These four Council members also sent the message that they believe Downtown Toledo is not a safe place for students attending school. This despite the healthy attendance at Toledo School for the Arts and other Downtown charter schools, not to mention the thousands of students bused Downtown each season to Fifth Third Field and Imagination Station.
If they believe that, perhaps they should spend more time improving that situation than blocking viable business development.
“Some Council members used their vote to express their disdain for charter schools in general and to me that’s just wrong,” Councilman Rob Ludeman told Toledo Free Press on Aug. 1. “Charter schools are allowed by Ohio law and as long as they meet all the zoning requirements we should allow them to go in. It’s a huge component of the economic development of Downtown.
“It’s a slap in the face to them and the business community Downtown. They apparently just didn’t listen to the planning commissioner director. There are other charter schools in the Downtown entertainment district already; how do you pick and choose? That’s just not right.
“When it came time for the vote, Tyrone Riley abstained. We have a Council rule that you can’t abstain unless you have a direct association with that entity and he has no connection to this charter school so the least he should have done is voted. They all just looked at me with blank faces when I read the rule. I was on Council when we put that in place because it was getting ridiculous how many people didn’t want to make a decision on things. You are elected to make a decision,” Ludeman said.
It’s almost as if these myopic Council members want to see Downtown fail; certainly, nothing in this decision shows any understanding of the facts or ramifications surrounding this vote.
Voters are right to ask, “What are these people thinking?”
Rebecca Booth, a spokesperson for Nexus, which has advertised in these pages, was gracious after the vote.
“We believe that this is just one step in a series of steps toward opening a charter school. We believe in our blended learning environment and we still think that we’ve got a great location to help out our students, so we’re moving forward hoping that we can still open in the fall,” she told Toledo Free Press on Aug. 1. “Everything is all up in the air but we’re exploring all possibilities. We were surprised [by the vote]. We go back to this just being part of the process. Sometimes you’re going to hit a hurdle and sometimes you’re not.”
At the same session, Council approved special-use permits for three other schools outside Downtown — all of which are reportedly located near convenience stores or bars. Ironically, as construction on the school had already started, Steel, Webb, Copeland, Martinez — and passively, Riley — have, for now, put union construction workers out of a job.
They have also potentially opened Council and the city to legal action. Even if the case never sees a day in court, a different kind of jury is watching this dysfunction and will return its own verdict, one that will continue to stymie efforts of growth and development in our hurting, increasingly troubled city.
Riley said he will change his vote to “yes” if Council reconsiders the vote, which it will apparently do on Aug. 7. That can only be proposed by Steel, Webb, Copeland or Martinez. There is an opportunity for redemption in the midst of this mess. But if any these Council members choose to let the vote stand and deny Riley his opportunity to revote, they should be painted as the aspiring statists they are — and the business community should rally to make sure they are voted out of office at the earliest opportunity.
Tags: Adam Martinez, Lindsay Webb, Nexus Academy, Paula Hicks-Hudson, Phil Copeland, Publisher's Statement, Rob Ludeman, Steve Steel, Toledo City Council, Tom Lemon, Tom Pounds, Tom Waniewski, Tyrone Riley