Saturday, December 10, 2022

Whither the city?

Four elected members of Toledo City Council have disgraced themselves. All four now stand indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and extortion. All face the possibility of decades in federal prison which, given their respective ages, could mean life sentences. And yet the sun comes up in the
morning, and the fine citizens of T-Town get up and go about their daily lives anticipating the city services they pay for and expect. The water still must run fresh from the tap. The parks must still provide recreational opportunities. The roadsides must still be mowed. The roads… Oh, yes, the roads. They are still an abomination in many parts of our fair metropolis, inhibiting civic pride and economic development. In short, the work of the City must go on.
Fallen four
The fallen four have until recently remained duly sworn members of the legislative branch, innocent in the eyes of the law until proven guilty, and three of the four have stubbornly attended Council meetings and demanded to vote. Larry Sykes, Tyrone Riley, and Gary Johnson were asked to leave the first such meeting they attended, and the meeting was abruptly adjourned when they refused. They have cast important votes over the past week, however, including a city-wide mask mandate and placing an income tax issue on the ballot to fix the damn streets.
The fourth member, Yvonne Harper, has not been seen in public since her arrest in June. The participation of Sykes, Riley and Johnson may look unseemly, given the cloud of corruption hanging over their heads. But the City charter demands two readings of any legislative initiative unless that rule is suspended by a supermajority of Council. But a supermajority cannot exist if only the remaining eight council members cast votes and the work of Council would slow appreciably. Hard as it might be to stomach, the votes of the three have been crucial to keep the City mov-
ing. On a side note, the resounding defeat of Issue One has brought Wade to his senses. Rather than promote such an omnibus and ambitiou tax hike, Wade stripped universal pre-K and safety forces from the new proposal. Instead, voters will see two
issues. One is the routine renewal of the three-quarter per cent income tax, without which the City would quickly go bankrupt. The other is a more modest temporary tax hike to fix the damn streets. How temporary is temporary remains to be seen. The votes of Sykes, Riley, and Johnson helped place those initiatives on the ballot.
Suspension of disbelief
The curtain has gone up on Act Two of the melodrama of the fallen four. Wade and Council President Matt Cherry asked the Ohio Attorney General to invoke Section 3.16 of the Ohio Revised Code and begin the process to suspend the fallen four from all activities. Sykes, Riley and Harper have accepted the suspension voluntarily,
meaning they will remain members of Council but cannot vote or otherwise participate. Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger will appoint temporary replacements to perform their Council duties until the legal process takes its course or, perhaps earlier, when they would have otherwise faced election, whichever comes first. Johnson is still fighting the suspension process and will presumably continue to participate on Council. What should Judge Puff look for in these temporary replacements? Fresh
faces with no political baggage? Should folks who you’ve never heard of be given the opportunity to get their feet wet? Or should the Judge appoint folks who have previously served who can hit the ground running with experience and knowledge? Should we expect a pledge from anyone appointed that they will only serve in the interim positions and won’t seek election to the seats? How could such a pledge be enforced? Ambition is a powerful drug, and especially political ambition. Just ask the fallen four. Service in office is not for the faint of heart, or for those who would rather criticize from the sidelines than be held accountable, it requires knowledge of the political process, and of public budgets. This takes time to learn. It also requires integrity, and a true belief in the solemn importance of public service. Should we entrust a full quarter, and possibly one third, of Council to folks who are untested and unproven? On the other hand, who will want to step into these poorly paid positions in a time like this, with the City facing a COVID-19 budget shortfall and the public trust plummeting? The deadline to apply for the open
seats is August twenty-first. We need a
few good women and men to apply, and
we need them now.


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