Things fall apart
Summer heat in T-Town politics
Frankly, we've been a bit worried lately. Loyal readers of this humble op-ed know our stock in trade is the foibles and faux pas of local politicos and their ilk. Usually there are so many to choose from our only task is to winnow the chaff from the clods of dirt. Things were lots quieter in the past few months, though. Carty hadn’t reared his pointy head. The TPS School Board had been uncharacteristically cordial. Toledo City Council, normally a grab bag of goofus, had been working through difficult issues like budgets and labor negotiations with frightening aplomb. Thankfully, the center of rational discourse has fallen away and the whackaloes are back at the watering hole.
The life of Riley
Start with our own august City Council. Cracks in the genteel façade started to show around the edges as members started taking public shots at each other through the debate around domestic partner benefits and the allocation of federal block grant dollars. Who is married to whom suddenly became a matter for public debate.
During the block grant discussion, Councilman Adam Martinez took to the media to muse about the motivations of other members in supporting an emergency repair program for low-income seniors operated by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA). Later, Martinez urged Council to support a compromise supported by the Bell Administration, warning that otherwise Hizzoner would likely veto the result. This led to a scathing Civics 101 lesson on separation of powers from noted Constitutional scholar, Councilman D. Michael Collins. After an excruciating session during which no decision was made, Council finally took action well after the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
This embarrassing escapade was only the warm up, however. A seemingly innocuous item on a recent Council agenda brought down the house of cards into the lap of Prez Joe McNamara. The decision involved approval of a permit for locating a new charter school in a building at Huron and Jefferson in the heart of the Downtown Entertainment District. Councilman Steven Steel made an objection based on the proximity of convenience stores and other adult-oriented venues located within the district. He then voted “No,” as did Council members Phil Copeland, Martinez, and Lindsay Webb.
Normally this would mean the permit passed eight to four. Except Councilwoman Paula Hicks-Hudson was on vacation. And Councilman Tyrone Riley inexplicably abstained. Meaning the permit failed to garner a seven-vote majority.
You’d think all Hades had splattered loose. Councilman Mike Craig demanded to know why Riley abstained. President McNamara, noting that abstaining requires a conflict of interest but not a disclosure of the nature of the conflict, declined to force the issue. Days after the vote Councilman Tom Waniewski and Rob Ludeman blustered rhapsodic in a scathing editorial, questioning the motivation of those voting in the negative. Waniewski called their reasons “stupid” while Ludeman chastised Riley for abstaining.
Riley has now admitted he may have made a mistake and asked for a do-over. This comes just weeks after it was
disclosed that Riley owed the City thousands of dollars in past-due water bills. Piling on is always du jour in City Politics, although
do-overs are pretty gauche in our estimation.
Workin’ on the levy
Over at TPS, the Board was crossing its fingers that a proposed 6.9-mill levy might find favor with voters, giving the cash-strapped district its first infusion of ducats in over a decade. Things were going smoothly. Until they weren’t. First the struggle between TPS and EOPA over administering federal Head Start angered folks in the central city, source of a large proportion of “Yes” votes on levies.
Then the other shoe dropped. Seems the State of Ohio has been looking into allegations that the district has been
manipulating student data to enhance their chances of scoring higher on state report cards. TPS has allegedly been dropping chronically truant students then re-enrolling them so as to erase their poor data from the records. It seems to make sense to drop the scores of students who don’t come to school. But it might also be illegal.
The Auditor of State is looking into the practice at TPS and at Cleveland
Public Schools. What do these districts have in common? That’s right, both were formerly headed by Dr. Eugene Sanders. It was on Sanders’ watch, you might recall, that one Dan Burns scammed both districts out of a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Just as it looked bleak for levy passage, TPS Treasurer Matt Cleland announced an unexpected surplus exceeding $10 million, causing the board to revise its levy request to 4.9-mills. Does this make the levy more palatable and likely to pass? Or does it just add to perceptions of mismanagement? If no news is good news, what does it mean when the third news shoe drops?