Sunday, July 23, 2006

 
I have been extremely horrible at keeping this blog updated throughout the summer-- didn't realize what a job it could be, amidst everything else going on this summer.

One of my bad habits is getting in front of the computer to do everything while the summer sun is shining so brightly.

In a feeble attempt to play "catch-up", here are some recent Toledo Free Press columns on a number of topics, most recent to older ones. All of these appeared in print except for the one dated June 21, 2006 about my dad-- it went to TFP Online, but they also had a server glitch that week and the column I'm most proud of was read by the fewest people, unfortunately.






Toledo Free Press Column
July 19, 2006
Kevin Milliken

A Flood of Questions

As Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner fills sandbags along Shantee Creek, a Crawford Avenue woman begins yelling at him. Her husband is in the hospital, his lungs full of mold from cleaning his basement after a series of floods.

Phone messages from citizens to members of Toledo City Council scream frustration and anger from phrases written on small white slips of paper.

Emails and phone calls pour into Eye on Toledo for three straight evenings, people wondering what has happened and whether anyone is to blame.

The Toledo Waterways Initiative is the result of a lawsuit filed against Toledo by federal and state environmental protection agencies. The case took eleven years to settle, which leaves one wondering why it took so long and whether North Toledo neighborhoods would have flooded so many times this summer if their problems had been addressed a decade ago.

Can these even be called floods? Yes, there were four summer storms that have dropped a combined 10-12 inches of rain on the Toledo area. Yes, we’re a few inches ahead of normal on rainfall this year.

HOWEVER, then you read this paragraph from the Toledo Waterways Initiative page buried on the city’s website:

Modern sewer systems have separate pipes for sewage and storm water. Sewage is transported to the wastewater treatment plant, and storm water is released directly into a ditch, stream or river. About 20 percent of Toledo is still served by combined sewers – an old system that carries both sewage and storm water in the same pipe. Under normal conditions, this does not present a problem. Both the sewage and storm water are treated at the wastewater treatment plant. However, in the event of heavy rainfall, the system becomes overloaded. Storm water mixed with raw sewage then overflows into area waterways and sometimes backs up into residents’ homes.

That leads one to ask a very important question: were these floods or continuous sewer backups?

The answer will determine whether many people get insurance settlements and any additional assistance from FEMA.

Voters gave the city permission to raise their sewer rates over a five-year period (the last increase was January 1 of this year) to accumulate $450 million to fix Toledo’s sewer system.

That begs the next question: what are they doing with all that money?

Part of the Toledo Waterways Initiative is to increase the treatment and storage capacity of wastewater running through the city’s century-old sewer system. The storage tank is the big hole in the ground you can see at the corner of Summit and Manhattan.

While the city spends millions to build a bigger and better tank, where is all the water from sewage and storms going until then?

Does it get held in the sewer system until the wastewater treatment plant can handle it? If so, is that why people’s basement drains keep backing up with raw sewage?

The city’s website says a study of that North Toledo neighborhood is also scheduled this year as part of the Toledo Waterways Initiative.

Officially, it’s known as a “Sanitary and Storm Sewer System Evaluation Project” that includes all sorts of fancy stuff like “flow monitoring”, “smoke and dye testing”, and “hydraulic modeling.”

I can save the city a lot of time and expense.

It rained time and again, people’s basements flooded time and again, they got mad as hell time and again. We’ve got a problem here, Homer. Duh.

I can write an opinion piece and cite all sorts of shoulda/woulda/coulda scenarios and blame present/past/future city administrations with fun and catchy plays on words involving Ford and Carty and raw sewage. That would be too easy.

After all, they were the only two strong mayors we’ve had since our city leaders knew we had a problem and fought a lawsuit for more than a decade.

But this is a serious situation and peoples’ lives and homes have been ruined as a result.

That sewer lawsuit was filed in 1991. We’ve given you $450 million to fix it. Now go and do it: completely, thoroughly, and expeditiously.

We know these things take time. But the EPA tried to wake you up 15 years ago. Quit making excuses about “saturated ground” and give us results. Now.
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Toledo Free Press Column
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Coffee, Conversation, & Country Common Sense

At the intersection of State Route 295 and the old Territorial Road, there are shades of Mayberry RFD.

There’s but a single flashing traffic light and on the four corners: a feed store with the post office attached, a John Deere dealership, a gas station and a general store called Keeler’s Korner.

There’s a big picture window in the front of Keeler’s Korner, which allows anyone who sits at the big wooden table to watch the world pass by and discuss the day’s events. It is known to the locals as the Berkey Roundtable.

On any given morning, you’ll find farmers, townsfolk, and people who work in The Big City (Toledo) who gather to drink coffee, commiserate, and add a little country common sense to the big issues of the day: illegal immigration, the latest levy, or the weather.

Sometimes you’ll find school bus drivers, a union organizer, retirees, and the unofficial mayor of Berkey sitting around the table. They keep the conversation going, while Mr. Moon or Barb keep the coffee brewing.

If the conversation, controversy or coffee is really hot that morning, you’ll find a standing-room-only crowd. There’s even a big front stoop where a political candidate could give a stump speech—or stage an impromptu debate.

Since our gubernatorial candidates have snubbed Toledo for a formal debate, I challenge and invite Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Strickland to stop through Berkey on the Round Table Tour.

Berkey’s not big: fewer than 300 registered voters, about as many people as will attend one of the big debates in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Youngstown.

Why go to all the trouble of red-white-and-blue bunting, podiums, and microphones when you could have a good old-fashioned discussion of the issues in front of real people instead of a TV audience that will only get canned answers and political posturing.

Then the two of you could simply drive a few miles down the road to the next round table at T-Mart. That one’s tucked back in the corner of the convenience store, so you’ll have to talk loud to be heard over the beer coolers humming nearby.

Keep going a few more miles, and you’ll find a third round table at the convenience store in Lyons. This one’s famous: where the winning $262 million Mega-Millions lottery ticket was sold earlier this year.
The round table serves a valuable purpose in the country. Some may think it’s just a branch office for the county extension agent. After all, if he wants to know how the corn crops are doing, five minutes with a cup of java serves as “research”.

But the round table is really the Country Court of Public Opinion. The round table is like “Cheers” minus the beer: where everybody does know your name—and your business.

I find myself drawn to the round table on a regular basis. As a journalist and talk-show host, I certainly want to know what people think. In-between good-natured barbs, the regulars aren’t shy about what they think on just about any topic.

That’s why the candidates for governor need to come. These are smart, solutions-oriented people who can patch our problems and fix our fears. Forget the professors and million-dollar consulting contracts. These folks were raised on common sense and given a country education and know only one thing: the plain, clear, simple truth.

There’s no need for a daily newspaper to sponsor the debate, when everyone has scanners, word-of-mouth, and a round wooden table with enough chairs for anyone who wanders past.

Trust me, we’ll know when you’re coming and gather accordingly. No need for advance people on this campaign trail.

Come talk to some country folks about school funding. Join them for a common-sense approach to creating jobs. Listen closely over coffee to ways we can work together to fix skyrocketing utility bills.

We’ll keep drinkin’ java, we’ll keep talkin’, and we’ll keep fixin’. You keep listenin’, and sooner or later you’ll be wide awake: either from the coffee, or the common sense solutions to some of our state’s biggest problems.

There’s only one rule of the round table: you’re going to get your coffee and common sense the same way—without sugar.

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TFP Column
Milliken Mouthing Off
July 5, 2006

Recalling Carty Would Be a Herculean Task

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s latest gaffe involving former police chief Jack Smith has prompted a lot of talk among radio listeners of launching another recall effort.

The last one occurred in 1999, an Internet-based effort known as recallcarty.com. That effort ultimately failed, as organizers realized just how tough it is to gather tens of thousands of signatures in a short period of time to get a recall petition on the ballot.

Hizzoner may be sitting in a comfy office on the 22nd floor of One Government Center, laughing hysterically at all the talk. He helped write the city charter change that led to the strong mayor form of government Toledo now enjoys/despises/endures.

Former mayor Jack Ford also helped. The only two men ever to be a strong mayor assisted in writing the rules citizens would and have attempted to use to remove them from office. Isn’t it ironic, don’tcha think?

In fact, one anonymous informant who was there reports that many of the negotiations occurred in Carty’s downtown condo that later caused him so many ethical headaches.

Is it a stacked deck? Are citizens that angry at Mr. Finkbeiner in six short months to really mount a serious effort?

Believe it or not, this would be the third effort to unseat the mayor. A feeble attempt was made in 1995 during Carty’s first term. News reports indicate little more than 1,000 signatures were secured on recall petitions.

In 1999, during the mayor’s second term, a group called RecallCarty.com mounted an Internet-based campaign, complete with a website where the angered masses could download a petition and pass it around. That group, linked to the Libertarian Party, reported getting 10,000-11,000 signatures on recall petitions, less than half of what they would have needed to get it on the ballot.

Two main obstacles are working against any organizers of a third effort. The charter states a mayor must be in office one full year before a recall effort can even begin. While that allows a group to form, recruit, and plan such an effort, it also gives Mr. Finkbeiner time to get his act together and calm the waters of such talk.


The biggest hurdle is the number of valid signatures required: 25% of the number of people who cast ballots in the last mayor’s race.
RecallCarty.com needed nearly 23,000 signatures to pull off that feat. Fewer than twenty people worked about three months to meet a deadline to get those signatures. They would have needed 2,000 valid signatures each week to succeed.

Imagine how many more signatures would have to be secured to get the valid ones needed, once the board of elections roots out Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, and other cartoon character autographs.

Don’t get me wrong. I have advocated citizen involvement in this space many times in the short time I have been writing this column. I just want people to know what they’d be up against if they decided to pursue such an effort.

Oh, and there’s one more hurdle: fear of the wrath of Carty. Organizers of past efforts openly feared reprisal from Hizzoner or his political supporters, and said so publicly.

Any group that starts a recall petition must know that people may agree secretly with the effort, yet refuse to sign because they’re afraid something bad could happen.

That may be a stretch, but this is a big small town, and it’s getting smaller all the time. There will be a lot of folks who work for the city, have a relative who works for the city, or does business with the city.

We have already seen what Carty is capable of. His temper is legendary. There are “A team” opponents in the Democratic Party who have felt the sting of his political power.
There are department heads who have resigned rather than try to meet the mayor’s wrath. (He would obviously prefer the term “high expectations”.)

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate in pathetic consequences? We’re the boss, but we can’t or won’t pursue the ultimate show of who’s the boss because we’re actually afraid of the man we elected to office.

Talk about letting someone’s temper get the better of you.
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Toledo Free Press Column
Kevin Milliken
June 21, 2006

An Example of Leadership

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about my dad, but the reasons why go well beyond the traditional fond memories associated with Father’s Day.

My dad marks some of life’s bigger milestones this month. Last week, he reached his 75th birthday. He and my mom will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend.

If life’s a journey and not a destination, those are two historical markers you don’t often see together along life’s road these days.

At the same time, one gets a little weary and worn traveling that far: deciding which path to take, weathering the bumps and potholes along the way, and surviving the storms that slow your progress.

My father has recently begun to experience some health issues that come with all the experience, wisdom, and knowledge he has accumulated along his journey.

My parents still live in the only house I ever knew as a child. It has been home to seven kids: a big brick structure on a hill at the edge of the woods. They now live there alone, still trying to maintain all those empty rooms, a big backyard where grandchildren only laugh and play occasionally, and all the plumbing, electrical and other systems that start to break down with age.

I went home on consecutive weekends to help mow the grass and do other chores, not out of a sense of duty as a son. Not because I had to do it. I could have found a million excuses within a busy work and family life to avoid a three-hour drive. I wanted to help my friend, my mentor, my role model.

My father filled all those roles in my life, and continues to do so. He even came outside to help me clean brush off a hillside, even though the medication he’s on requires him to stay out of the sunlight as much as possible.

Some would call that stubborn. I call it quietly leading by example.

Without a word, he showed me he would never ask me to do something he was not willing to do himself. Any man willing to get his hands dirty alongside me is someone I’m willing to go the extra mile to help.

Sure, he can only do so much these days. But the conversation and companionship made the job go by much more quickly.

After the sun and medication wore him out after a while, my father smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and said he needed to go inside and rest for a while.

His effort inspired me to keep plugging away. I worked eight hours that day in
90-degree heat and typical Ohio humidity, just trying to give a little back to a man who had already given me so much.

As my father walked away and I got back to the task at hand, I got lost in reminiscing about some of the lessons that quiet leader left in the hearts and minds of his children, lessons he’s now helping to teach his many grandkids.

A strong work ethic was only one of those lessons. I worked summers on the assembly line to pay for my college education. My dad was a ceramic engineer, the guy who helped pave your journey through life with bricks and smoothly-glazed tile. He was part of the management team at the factory.

I was known as the “boss’s kid”, or BK. That fact made it tough to be accepted by the rank-and-file, the union stewards, and other managers. But I kept hearing the same thing over and over, when I found myself alone with each of those people.

“Hey, I just wanted you to know—your old man, he’s a great guy. Always been fair to me. He’s a good man. Honest man. That makes you cool by me.”

My dad and I worked different shifts. But I heard those same phrases from workers and managers 24-7. I began to see the merits of treating all people at all levels in the same way: with dignity, respect, and fairness.

My father also set an example of leadership in the small Northeast Ohio community where I grew up, by serving on the local school board for nearly a quarter-century.

He never had to run a political campaign. No baby-kissing, flag-waving, sign-in-every-front-yard, travel-to-every-festival, a-handshake-and-a-million-promises summertime extravaganza for him.

People elected him every four years because they saw him for what he was: the quiet voice of reason and common sense in the cesspool of politics.

Sure, my father held his employees, our community’s educators, and his children accountable. But never did you see ranting and raving, waving arms, and senseless screaming to get the message across, like a mayor who wants the grass cut at local parks.

Our school board didn’t have the egos, in-fighting, and childish games involving a bunch of so-called “leaders” who say they’re working on behalf of our community’s children.
Kind of makes you wish for a little quiet inspiration from a leader with common sense and old-fashioned values. Someone like my dad.



Toledo Free Press Column
Kevin Milliken
May 30, 2006

Double Taxation & Selective Enforcement

The City of Toledo is doing a lot of business these days with collection agencies.

Chasing after tax scofflaws is a good job for those agencies, because it holds those cheaters accountable.

However, when companies like Cost Recovery Corp. from the Dayton area start suggesting legislation and lobby city council for its passage, that’s problematic.

That is exactly what is happening in Toledo. CRC is actively showing elected officials how easy it is to increase city coffers with police and fire service fees.

What happens is this: if you are found at fault in an accident, CRC bills your insurance company for the services of police officers and firefighters who respond to the scene.

Toledo is now charging fire services fees. City council is considering a proposal from the Finkbeiner administration to add police service fees to the books, too.

CRC’s website sells this service to city governments, by telling them no individuals will get charged. Wanna bet?

I have been getting bills from CRC ever since a car accident last December for more than $1500, because my insurance company refuses to pay. Their take is that my tax dollars already pay for these services. They’re right.

We pay the ¾% payroll income tax that we have approved for the last quarter-century. That tax has always been sold to the public as a means to fund trash collection, as well as police and fire protection.

The Ohio Insurance Institute and Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce both call that double taxation.

Adding insult to injury, CRC Vice President Regina Moore informs me that the collection agency is only going after non-residents individually and forgiving the bills of Toledo residents. Why? Moore explains residents pay a property tax that pays for police and fire protection, but non-residents do not.

I call that selective enforcement.

Many people don’t even know this is going on. Voters renewed the ¾% income tax in November of 2004. Six weeks later—four days before Christmas—council quietly passed the fire service fee ordinance, while we were distracted by the joy of holiday celebrations.

I only noticed when I got the bill. Now my insurance company is playing brinksmanship games with the collection agency, and my credit rating hangs in the balance.

So why should you care about my problem? Because it will soon be your problem, too.

Some insurance companies are paying these fees. That means those carriers are going to find the money somewhere. That will mean higher insurance rates for you.

Toledo has collected more than $150,000 from this ridiculous tax since last July.

By the way, CRC gets 10% off the top. No wonder the collection agency is selling its services and lobbying municipal governments. They each get a cash cow, making it a win-win situation—for them.

Tell that to Bob Christie, a Maumee resident who owns a Toledo business. He received a bill bigger than mine. He may be a non-resident, but he’s paying the same income tax I do. He’s also filling city coffers with business taxes. He’s plenty mad. Can you blame him?

Then there are the people who were billed $2100 for a fender bender. The bill included more than $650 in charges for eight emergency medical technicians who showed up at the cash, er, crash scene—but no one needed medical attention. That person got billed for services that were never even rendered!

Let me be clear: my beef is not with the brave police officers and firefighters who protect our homes, lives, and streets every day. My complaint is with elected officials and collection agencies who find creative, subversive ways to squeeze every last penny out of us instead of living within a balanced budget.

I wonder if Toledo City Council even considered what would happen when they voted
To pass these fees. The council president has asked for a review of the situation when council’s committee-of-the-whole considers adding police to this ridiculous equation on Wednesday.

You can still make a difference. That hearing is June 28, 3 pm, in council chambers at One Government Center.

Sometimes we have to remind our elected leaders who’s boss: us. This is one of those times.
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Toledo Free Press Column
Kevin Milliken
June 7, 2006

No Room at the Inn

My wife and I recently found ourselves en route from Canton to Columbus on a Saturday evening for an awards banquet the next day. It happened to be one of those accidental occurrences where we were sans kids: a rare occasion that parents get to take advantage of, be a couple, and reconnect with each other.

We decided to head down the road and find a hotel room instead of spending the night at my parents.

But the trip down I-71 through north-central Ohio proved to be a quest as much as it was a leisurely drive on a beautiful spring evening. Why? There was no room at the inn.

From Mansfield to Mount Gilead, Delaware to the inner belt of north Columbus, we couldn’t find squat.

Near Mansfield, it was racing night at the Mid-Ohio track.

“It’ll be even worse next weekend,” the hotel clerk informed us. That’s when the big the Busch truck racing series was coming to town.

Off we went, stopping next in Mount Gilead. All the hotels were booked solid because of a bass fishing tournament at Alum Creek State Park.

A bass fishing tournament!

Boats were backed up to hotel rooms, extension cords running to electric fish finders that use global positioning satellites and other gizmos.

My wife and I started talking about the situation. How does a fishing event in the middle of nowhere draw this many people, and why isn’t it in Northwest Ohio instead? After all, we have Lake Erie and the Maumee Bay. What gives?

As the miles wore on and our frustration grew, we got closer to Columbus. The I-71 exit near Delaware boasted five or six hotels, so we thought the third time would be a charm. Nope. More race fans and bass fishermen kept us on our quest.

The kind hotel clerk had some friendly advice: keep going and you’ll find plenty of rooms on the other side of I-270 in Columbus.



So we kept going, Our simple quest for an inexpensive, comfortable hotel room starting to seem more like the search for the Holy Grail. It took four hours, five stops, and we lost the sunset walk we had hoped for along the way.

Finally, we found a Motel 6 that had left the light on for us. It was a searchlight from one of several more bass boats in the parking lot—more than 50 miles from that state park. These guys must really like to wrangle with their reels, we thought.

Tired and hungry, we walked next-door and grabbed some dinner..

While there, a raucous celebration ensued among a dozen family members. When we asked politely what was going on, they informed us one of their youngsters had done well riding in her first horse competition at the Ohio Expo Center that day. They had come all the way from Pittsburgh to watch their kids compete.

I left dinner shaking my head, incredulous at what I had witnessed that evening. Three events that drew big crowds from God-knows-where, packing hotels and restaurants in towns nowhere near the size of Toledo—and this wasn’t even Memorial Day weekend!

Why can’t we do this in Northwest Ohio?!?

I mean, c’mon. Our biggest draws in recent memory involved a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Insane Clown Posse.

We have a ton of racing fans. Heck, our region even boasts Sam Hornish, Jr., the latest Indy 500 racing champ! But they all pack up and head north to Michigan International Speedway, along with thousands more who pass through Toledo, headed to somewhere else. Where’s our Mid-Ohio?

We have the North Coast. We have docks, marinas, boats and water—lots and lots of water. Where is our fishing tournament?

Five minutes outside the Glass City, you see horses everywhere. 4-H kids are learning to ride English and western styles at small equestrian arenas all over Northwest Ohio. Where’s our mini-expo center that could host even a regional event on the riding circuit?

Sadly, I came to a conclusion. We have everything north-central Ohio has. But where is our vision to see what we have, the imagination to see what could be, or the creativity to capitalize on it?

Wouldn’t that be a great problem for us to have: no room at the inn.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

 
Here's this week's Toledo Free Press column. A little less serious this go-around:

The Luck of the Draw

For three weeks, Lucas County and the rest of the world saw a man on TV with graying hair and a moustache, sitting behind the bench, his black robe barely visible.

Judge Thomas Osowik presided over Toledo’s version of The Trial of the Century: the State of Ohio vs. Father Gerald Robinson. From opening gavel to guilty verdict, the guy in the black robe guided every player in this real-life drama like a director in a stage play.

If the judge made a mistake, the whole country would see it. National media would cover it.
Legal experts would dissect and debate it.

Talk about pressure. Uh-uh.

Talk about the luck of the draw.

Court cases in Lucas County Common Pleas Court are supposed to be assigned at random.

The judge not only drew the Father Robinson murder case, he hit the jackpot.

In fact, he hit the trial trifecta.

Judge Osowik’s docket also includes the Tom Noe conspiracy/corruption/Coingate case. Courtroom #10 is also playing host to all of the lawyers, trustees, and bean-counters who are sorting out the lost millions in the Westhaven Group fiasco.

Guess who just happens to be running for the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals? Talk about your good timing.

Every judge wishes he or she could have the free publicity, exposure, and name recognition Judge Osowik is getting in an election year.

Voters can put a name with a face for only a few elected officials.

Carty is a household name. Love him or hate him, you know him oh-so-well.
But Mr. Finkbeiner has spent many years carefully honing his public image-- taking temper tantrums, embarrassing episodes, and silly statements to a new level.

Judges, for the most part, labor in obscurity. The only time you see a judge is when you’re in big trouble. Put a name with a face? Forget it, unless you’re an attorney or headed to the pokey.

Judges usually have the biggest campaign signs, because they need you to remember their name. Not Judge Osolucky, er, Osowik.

With that kind of luck in my corner, I’d not only be running for office-- I’d be running for the nearest roulette table.

While Judge Osowik’s face was plastered all over Court TV, he should have been playing a Texas Hold’em tournament on ESPN instead.

Forget picking the next jury. Judge Osowik should be picking win, place, and show at the Preakness Stakes.

With the lottery jackpot hovering around $100 million, the good justice may just want to pick up a Mega-Millions ticket.

Oops, temporarily forgot about all those judicial and legal canons of ethics.

After all, I doubt Judge Osowik attended the Bob McCloskey College of Law, where the school motto is not E pluribus unum, but “Hey, I was just doing my job.” That’s also where the syllabus for Intro to Law is how to get “campaign donations” (read: kickbacks) for giving a little “legal advice” (read: insider information).

I sure hope Judge Osowik is running unopposed. I know I would hate to be his opponent.

I mean, who needs a campaign consultant when you’ve got Tom Noe in your courtroom for eight weeks this summer? Who needs a political party endorsement when you’ve got Court TV on speed dial?

Judge Osowik may not even need to call the cable channel. Word on the street is Court TV’s coming back for the Coingate trial in August.

If that happens, lightning really can strike twice in the same place.

Judge Thomas Osowik could end up with his own fan club. Picture bobble-heads in black robes on Ebay. He might even get to sign his own hot dog bun at Tony Packo’s.

Hey, it could happen. But don’t let it go to your head, your honor. Look what happened to the other T.O. when he got an ego.

But the way the judge’s luck is going, a second gig on Court TV could lead to a new career. How about his own TV show?

Look out Judge Judy. Here comes the judge-Judge T.O.: Toledo Osolucky, er, Thomas Osowik.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

 
As promised, here is the first column that appeared in the Toledo Free Press on Wed., May 3, 2006:

Toledo Gateways Open to Wacky Welcome

For years, Toledo’s leaders have talked about creating “community gateways” to welcome visitors and dignitaries to our fine city.

They dreamed of the Marina District greeting tourists who ventured off the new I-280 bridge. The Erie Street Market, Fifth Third Field, and the Warehouse District would impress travelers who came downtown from I-75.

The blueprint for such a “community gateway” involves an appealing drive down a smoothly-paved street adorned with beautiful flowers blooming, picturesque trees blossoming, and an attractive sign completing the scene, touting Toledo as a wonderful place to live, work, play, and do business.

Somewhere along the line, though, our city fathers got this whole “gate” thing wrong and made a mother of a mess.

We’re a gated community, all right.

Our community leaders have instead opened a floodgate of political carnivals and public corruption.

Our “gates” to date:

Carty, city council, and Westgate.

Tom Noe and Coingate.

Columbia Gas and the Maumee Gate.

Carty (again) and ShowerGate.

Bob “Show Me the Money” McCloskey and Pilkington/PrescriptionGate

Phil Copeland and Uniongate.

The Toledo Zoo and Veterinarian VendettaGate.

John Ulmer, The Westhaven Group and Real Estate InvestmentGate.



Even Lucas County leaders have rehired the Gateway Consulting Group, the Cleveland guys who helped building the ballpark. Let’s just hope they do the job right again, so we don’t end up with ArenaGate.

Perhaps, as they are apt to do, our elected leaders spent millions of taxpayer dollars on high-priced consultants who told them these gates would be a good idea. Then maybe they put all those studies on the shelf to gather dust, tossed the blueprints, and decided to design the gates themselves.

Because the only gates that got built are ugly examples of national embarrassment that leave the best view of Toledo for a tourist in the rearview mirror.

In my days as a TV reporter, I had a hand in opening a couple of those gates.

Perhaps you got angry when you saw how cheaper natural gas passed through the Maumee Gate for points elsewhere, while you struggled to pay to heat your home.
That gate recently got fixed, or so they say it will be soon.

Maybe you caught the TV encounter between this reporter and his Finkiness, refusing to explain ShowerGate and the $9,996 question: was it political craftsmanship or plain ol’ coincidence that a new executive washroom costs just enough money to keep it from the scrutiny of a vote by Toledo City Council?

In the journalism world, they call us media watchdog-types “gatekeepers”.

How many “gates” are there still under construction in our community? Or better yet, if we open more, will we find paths paved in scam, scandal, and sleaze?

That’s my job and chosen profession to take a look.

OK, fine. So let’s unlock and open a few more of those “gates” and see what’s hidden behind’em.

We’ll call it the Gateway Game. This column will attempt to open those gates and this watchdog will bark at government, political, and community leaders when he sees them take our tax dollars and do dumb/illegal/improper/unethical (just circle the appropriate one each week) things with the public trust.

You might see some of those gates need a fixin’ yourself. I’m willing to lend a hand. Just give me a call. Or an email.

We really can take back our city as citizens, show our elected leaders who’s really boss, and rebuild those gates ourselves as taxpayers who trust only themselves.

The whole “community gateway” thing really is a good idea. But outsiders need a better view of Toledo. Because the Marina District’s just a big mud-pile and the Erie Street Market is closed for remodeling.

So let’s fix it ourselves.

Let’s call the first one “GovernmentGate” and swing it wide open for all to see. Once we wash off all the mud-slinging, muck-raking, and money-taking, we can show other people that Toledo really is a good place to live, work, play, and do business.
I’ll do my part—because I now have my “Eye on Toledo”. But it’ll be a whole lot more fun to bust down these “gates” together.

 
As promised, here is the first column that appeared in the Toledo Free Press on Wed., May 3, 2006:


I’ll do my part—because I now have my “Eye on Toledo”. But it’ll be a whole lot more fun to bust down these “gates” together.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

 
What a wacky day...been filling in on morning drive news the past couple of days as well as doing my 6-7 pm radio show Eye on Toledo...long, exhausting hours, but the day goes fast.

Today Father Gerald Robinson trial verdict came down...conclusion of two years following the case, first at NBC-24 and now at WSPD. I've covered a lot of crazy stuff in my career-- a quadruple murder and 19-hour standoff between police and the suspect, a guy blowing his head off in a beanfield the first day I came to Toledo, and investigative stories of all kinds-- but this one is the strangest in my 15 years as a journalist.

The fallout from this guilty verdict is going to be enormous: for the Catholic church locally, for the retired priest, for the sex abuse victims.

Court TV is reporting the "Jane Doe" who got the case reopened with her sex abuse allegations by Father Robinson and other priests...is actually a nun who wanted the diocese to pay for her psychology bills...and was on the prosecution's witness list as a rebuttal witness in the event Father Robinson took the stand in his own defense. Police have described her allegations as a "separate case", which makes me wonder if there's more to come there.

There's also all sorts of evidence inadmissible in court...that hasn't been revealed yet-- wonder what else they found?

Also, don't forget the civil case against the priest that alleges also sorts of strange ritualistic stuff from a second Jane Doe. That case was on hold until after the murder trial. Certainly not the last word there, either.

As strange as it's been for two years, will it get stranger?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

 
This is the second column I have written for the Toledo Free Press. It ran in the May 10, 2006 edition. I will post the first column in the next couple of days.

What PC Really Stands for in Toledo

In our acronym world, the letters PC have certainly achieved cliché status.

But Toledo politics continues to redefine the term. Locally, PC certainly does not stand for political correctness, or even personal computer.

The goofy games going on right now are the exact opposite of the political correctness voters and taxpayers expect when they elect leaders to office.

It’s no wonder so many voters saw so little reason to show up for the May primary. Blame the rain that day, blame whatever.

Puh-leeze.

Take a look in the mirror, read your oath of office, then look your constituents in the eye and tell us the real reasons had nothing to do with scam, scandal, and sleaze.

Here are a few ideas on what PC really means in Toledo:

Public Corruption.

It’s quickly become a sad state of affairs for the ol’ Bulldog. Former Toledo City Council member Bob McCloskey, the leading vote-getter in last November’s election, could end up in the slammer instead of at-large, because he apparently forgot the reason he received all that support.

Um, Bob, you’re supposed to “make” laws, not break them.

One other note: your salary as a councilman is set by city ordinance, not the rule of whatever the bribery market will bear.

According to his federal court plea, McCloskey even attended an ethics seminar only after pocketing an unnamed businessman’s cash on March 22nd.

What a wonderful example of where one’s priorities lie.

Now Toledo City Council wants to pass an ethics policy, because they don’t have one.

The Dems and council must find a replacement for McCloskey, and oh, how ugly it’s getting already.

That leads to the next Toledo definition of PC:

Political Carnival.

Bob Vazquez nearly won a council seat last November and says he submitted an application to replace McCloskey. But a Lucas County Democratic Party leader counters that a copy machine ate his paperwork.

It’s not hard to guess one is an A-teamer and the other backs the B-side.

There are nearly a dozen candidates who want the seat, two factions of the Democratic Party, and three voting blocs on council.

Toledo City Council will ultimately make the decision, but the acts in this three-ring circus will be back-door deals, horse-trading, and political promises.

Yep, there’s a third definition of PC in Toledo:

Personality Conflict.

One only needs to look at the Toledo Public Schools board for an example.

Larry Sykes versus Lucas County Recorder Anita Lopez over racial issues. Larry Sykes versus Darlene Fisher over the future of the TPS superintendent. Larry Sykes versus just about anybody except Dr. Eugene Sanders.

You don’t have to go along to get along.

But it sure is hard to make important decisions like which schools to close, how to cut a shrinking budget, and stem the loss of students to charter schools when you’re too busy with petty public in-fighting.

Now TPS says it needs another levy passed this November. It will be hard for voters to hear the message above all the shouting.

Sometimes it’s better to sit back, take a deep breath, and bring in someone from the outside with a fresh perspective.

But Toledo’s leaders do that a lot, which leads us to PC #4:


Paid Consultant.

If only I had a nickel for every time our elected leaders spent $100,000 on a paid consultant, I’d have enough money to hire my own six-figure specialist.
We’re on our third paid consultant to study municipal electric and our bills continue to shock.

Four studies on the Erie Street Market and the downtown food/flea market is closed and we’re gambling the market’s fortunes on a guy from Las Vegas.

We’ve seen plans, studies, and surveys for everything arena and marina—and we have yet to see bricks and mortar getting slapped together.

Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 million between those three issues.

One last PC:

Phil Copeland.

Here’s a guy who’s being accused of riding the political coattails of his late uncle Bill, a former county commissioner. He’s also under federal investigation for his union leadership.

He’s a PC who could use a PC (paid consultant) to avoid the other PC’s: public corruption charges, the personality conflicts on city council, and the political carnival within his own Democratic party.

Unless something changes, we’re left with yet another PC out of all this: pathetic consequences.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 
It's been a wild and whacky week full of new adventures, long hours and fun.

Now have a couple of radio shows under my belt. Eye on Toledo may only be an hour-long show, but I have plenty of new-found appreciation and respect for the work that goes into the three-hour shows done by our other local hosts and the national guys.

Agree or disagree, love'em or hate'em, talk show hosts read and research a lot. Yes, many have produecers to do a lot of the legwork, but the day goes fast preparing for a show.

So far, we've uncovered an attempt to merge two county agencies in the name of getting more levy dollars for one agency that has seen voters defeat levies three times. Lucas County Commissioners sought to merge the Mental Health Board and the Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services (ADAS) Board inside of a week through special meetings.

In their haste, it was revealed a state law allowing this merger hasn't even taken effect, so they can't even pursue the move until sometime this summer. A little scrutiny never hurts.

Bottom line: voters support mental health issues, but don't like giving money to drug and alcohol addicts who may create their own problems. By merging them into a board known as Mental Health and Recovery Services (no mention of alcohol, drugs, or addiction in the name), the combined board plans to seek a levy in November of 2007. No word on whether they would seek even more money to fund the addiction programs.

Second show: another taxpayer issue.

If Lucas County decides to build a new jail and a new arena, taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $150 million in bonds.

How can this happen?

A new arena will cost $50-$80 million. County budget director says there is an unvoted debt pool that's enough to fund most of that cost.

According to a memo we obtained, the cost of a new jail is now set at $70 million. However, those bonds are exempt from the unvoted debt ceiling. Thus, the county could go into a huge hole to fund both. Could happen, but unlikely astute voters would let it occur without a fight.
Especially when the county coffers are suffering through a sales tax slump because auto sales are way off from projections.

Now to the adventure. In-between all this, I have entered the newspaper and magazine worlds as a columnist for the Toledo Free Press...the column's working title is the same as this blog. I am also writing some feature articles for El Tiempo, a Latino newspaper here in Toledo.

My wife and I are also teaming up to assist People magazine in covering the Father Robinson murder trial, which puts one more national publication focusing on Toledo. Some folks may see the magazine in the same light as supermarket tabloids, but it's owned by Time, Inc. and I have done fact-checking and research with their Midwest Bureau and several editors who have questioned every fact, figure, abd claim in the article. They're doing their darndest to get ir right. That issue hits newsstands later this week.

If you happen to read this, the column, any of the articles or listen to the radio show, you comments, criticisms, complaints, constructive feedback or tips for topics/stories are always welcome. Please shoot me an email at kevin@wspd.com
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Monday, May 01, 2006

 
By now you may know...

My new career assignment is as host of "Eye on Toledo" on Newstalk 1370 WSPD.
It will air Monday-Friday 6-7 pm.

Shameless plug aside, I mentioned in the last blog that the future of Toledo is at stake.

We need to hold our public officials accountable and remind them that we, the voters and taxpayers are their bosses. I intend to do just that. But I need your help. Please call and email the show. More importantly, please pass along any tips, tidbits, and rocks we should be turning over to expose anything that's illegal, unethical, and just plain wrong.

The talk show is a way to transfer what I did in the TV news world to a new format: more
long-form journalism and a forum to discuss what's going on locally.

We'll play fair-- but we're going to take a closer look at the issues. I have heard from a lot of people concerned it will be the Carty-bashing hour. In a word: NO.

That said, we will look inside the Finkbeiner adminstration and hold our mayor and his staff accountable for spending OUR tax dollars wisely and make sure they're operating
above-board and within the public trust.

This blogsite claims I'm a "registered independent". That's true-- the show will welcome Democrats and Republicans alike. The days of joking that WSPD should be renamed WGOP are over.

The Toledo Free Press has also been kind enough to give me another opportunity with a weekly column of that bears the name of this blogsite: "Milliken Mouthing Off."

Why that name? First, it's a catchy, tongue-in-cheek title. Don't want to take myself too seriously. The broadcast reference is obvious. Plus, mama always told me to use my one God-given talent in life. That happens to be a big mouth.

The column will put some of the things happening in Northwest Ohio in a different perspective. I will attempt to post those columns to this blogsite, as well as provide an update on the ground we're covering on the radio show.

You'll also see an occasional article with my byling in El Tiempo, a Toledo-based newspaper covering the Latino community.

All of these things present a new adventure for me...a big departure from TV news and my former role in county government as a public information officer.

But that's one of the other reasons I left NBC-24: I wanted to try new things.

I took a long, hard look at my life, personally and professionally, spoke with a few friends and mentors along the way-- and lo and behold, some new opportunities presented themselves and I'm grateful for that.

I hope you'll listen and read, react and play along. Your feedback is important to me-- feel free to drop me an email. The address: kevin@wspd.com .

Now, this meeting of the Society to Prevent Taxpayer Abuse is called to order...

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