The dead badge of courageWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Toledo Free Press intern is struggling with an unpleasant revelation. In researching a story about a possible misstatement made by an elected state official, the intern has encountered a number of political types who have employed delay tactics, subterfuge, mock outrage and deception to throw her off track and keep the story from surfacing. Witnessing firsthand how rotten and self-serving politicians can be has rattled her a bit and shaken her belief in the motives of public servants.
A journalist with as many barnacles on his hull as I have expects politicians to be more interested in power than in serving constituents, but it is still lugubrious to see a young person’s sense of trust and idealism take its first slashes.
Two streams of local news have illustrated just how rare courage is in public life. On the positive side is Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s overdue but welcome decision to rebuild the Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE) and dismantle the lamentable circus into which it has devolved. On the shameful side is Toledo City Council’s resolute refusal to condemn one of its members, Larry Sykes, for an outrageous act of dangerous race-baiting and disparagement of two Toledo police officers.
Plodding but proper
Since the ascension of Jon Stainbrook, aided by The Blade and Toledo City Paper, the Lucas County Republican Party and BOE have been crackpot, untrustworthy, loathsome nests of foolishness, incompetence and suspected malfeasance. From signature forgery to questions about spending to accusations of system manipulation, it has been an era of implosion and sewer-level hustling.
The more cronies Stainbrook worked into the BOE — his close pal Meghan Gallagher and former legal representative Tony DeGidio being the most visible examples — the further into chaos the elections process has deteriorated. As far back as 2011, Toledo Free Press urged Husted to step in and rescue the sanctity of the voting process from the hostage situation in which it was entangled. It has taken years of embarrassment, election debacles and hundreds (thousands?) of hours of attention and untold financial resources from the secretary of state, but the process has finally played itself out: Husted has cleaned house at the BOE.
Like dominoes, the Stainbrook links of influence have toppled; there is now an opportunity to literally start from scratch and build an institution that voters — in the county, state and nation — can have faith in, or at least take for granted as almost every other county in the system does with their BOEs.
Husted followed the plodding but proper procedures and finally asserted the needed authority to make sweeping changes in Lucas County. That takes courage, even if that courage was applied with the pace and patience of a snail crossing a highway of salt. A sordid and tragicomic era in local politics will come to end thanks to Husted.
A few floors down in One Government Center, courage is as scarce as a shovel in the dirt at the Marina District. In the aftermath of a shameful scandal perpetrated solely by Sykes, not one Toledo City Councilperson has had the courage, sense, decency or pride to step up and condemn his reckless, divisive behavior.
To recap, Sykes was driving home April 24 when a Toledo police officer pulled him over because he could not read Sykes’ rear license plate. The officer had an even tougher time reading Sykes’ front plate, as he did not have one. That’s illegal in Ohio, and while it’s a minor and probably common offense, we have a right to expect our elected leaders to understand and obey basic laws.
Sykes subsequently wrote a letter to Chief of Police William Moton, saying his April 24 experience was attributable to “profiling.” On official City of Toledo letterhead.
An investigation definitively showed that no such profiling occurred. But the damage was done, as Sykes besmirched the reputations of two Toledo police officers in his quest to shirk responsibility and play the “I’ll show you who I am” card.
Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association (TPPA), has called for Sykes to resign. The International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO (IUPA), issued a statement May 28 in support of the TPPA, calling for Sykes to resign after an internal police investigation found his claims of police profiling at a recent traffic stop to be unfounded.
IUPA called on its entire membership, especially police units in Ohio, to stand with the TPPA on this issue.
So at some point, other members of Council could have — should have — made it clear they do not condone Sykes’ behavior. They could make a statement supporting the police, censure Sykes’ behavior or, if they collectively could gather one spine among them, join the call for his resignation. They could at least condemn his irresponsible invocation, right?
Toledo City Council members Mike Craig, Paula Hicks-Hudson and Jack Ford declined to comment on the call for Sykes’ resignation.
Sykes and Council members Tyrone Riley, Matt Cherry, Tom Waniewski, Lindsay Webb, Theresa Gabriel, Rob Ludeman, Sandy Spang and Steven Steel did not return requests for comment.
Cowards, every one of them.
Silence is consent. By hiding and avoiding even the slightest condemnation of Sykes’ actions, they are condoning his behavior and adding their piss to the disrespectful stream Sykes aimed at the badges of our Toledo police. Mayor D. Michael Collins — a retired cop, for Chrissake — hasn’t distinguished his leadership in this incident, either. Mumbling about an investigation is not leadership; it’s avoiding the issue.
I know race is a complicated and scary topic, but what about simple right and wrong? Doesn’t the value of doing what is right transcend the politics of race? Of politics itself?
Good luck expressing your outrage at the next faux cause that comes along, Council members. If you can’t work up the courage to stand beside police who are unfairly tarred with such an alarming false accusation, what will motivate you? Any topic you call a news conference to grandstand on is laughable if you can’t take a stand on such an egregious abuse of authority as Sykes tried to perpetrate on our cops.
The failure to condemn Sykes calls into question the ability of Council as a body and its individual members to function with any moral credibility. Perhaps another BOE-like clean sweep and fresh start is in order.
I am no summer intern; this behavior does not shock me. It simply reinforces my conviction that Toledo politics is the lowest form of public service.
It took years for Stainbrook to ruin the credibility of the BOE and for Husted to start the repairs. It only took one incident for Sykes to reveal Toledo City Council’s true colors: not black or white, but a blazing streak of yellow.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director of Newsradio 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.
Tags: AFL-CIO (IUPA), BOE, hief of Police William Moton, Jack Ford, Jon Stainbrook, Lindsay Webb, Lucas County, Lucas County Board of Elections, Marina District, Matt Cherry, Mayor D. Michael Collins, Meghan Gallagher, Mike Craig, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, Paula Hicks-Hudson, politicians, Republican Party, Rob Ludeman, Sandy Spang, Steven Steel, The Blade, The International Union of Police Associations, Theresa Gabriel, Toledo City Council, Toledo City Paper, Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, Tom Waniewski, Tony DeGidio, TPPA, Tyrone Riley