Saturday, June 28, 2014

TFP Column: "The Crazy Ones" Dropped

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/26/2014. 
Entertainment, such as it is, invariably comes and goes over time. So it was with little more than a weary sigh that I first saw this headline, one I’d been expecting for some time now. Imagine my surprise however, when I realized it was little more than announcement that the CBS show starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar about an ad agency was not going to be renewed for next season. (As if a show starring Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Mork without Mindy wasn’t doomed to fail from the start.) 

Strangely, it was not until days later that another similar headline led to the discovery that the real “Crazy Ones” was likewise seeing the end of its days. I’m talking, of course, about the Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE), whose irresponsible irrationality and long unpopularity has at long last gathered the critical attention of those in charge.

The Lucas County BOE has, after all, been little more than a rather tedious and shallow reality show, with a poorly hidden (and even more poorly written) script of farcical nonsense — one with far less entertainment value than its coastal rich chick and wrestling counterparts.

Oh sure, there’s been nanoseconds of political intrigue, though only widely spaced in a mindless tedium of vitriol.  No one is going to confuse its efforts with “House of Cards,” however, nor any of its cast of characters with the likes of a Kevin Spacey. Drama there was in plenty, but most of it forced, no doubt produced as an unintended result of the overacting and poor performances of its players. As for suspense, none seemed forthcoming until very recently, when it at last appeared possible that one or more of the cast might fail on a epic enough scale to get voted off of this overworked version of “Survivor: The Island of Misfit Toys.”

If there were ever paid writers for this slapstick comedy masquerading as a bored melodrama, they should have long since been fired (and had their laptops confiscated to prevent further transgressions). If there was ever actually a script involved, it seems to have been long since shredded for use to line a hamster cage somewhere.

As for genuine humor, forget it. The occasional ham-fisted attempts at improvisation by the cast showed far more second tier than “Second City.” If this droll satire of an even more droll bureaucratic function found anything resembling amusement to its storyline, it was immediately trampled in the real life “Barney Fife” comedy of errors portrayed in its daily operation. While a trio of the characters in this sham may have provided a bit of comic relief (no doubt inadvertently), the only real relief for the audience will come with the final and permanent departure from the stage of these Three Stooges.

The recent accidental cliffhanger, however, has fast become a classic, one in which the stalwarts of the BOE seemed all but incapable of counting even the piddling few votes cast (less than 10 percent of those eligible to vote) in the recent primary election without making the process look like “Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Lost Episodes.” The only things more pathetic than the voter turnout during this tired ritual were the poor performances of the cast, the lack of originality in the sob stories used rationalize their inevitable failure and the instantaneous inculpation of co-workers.

Apparently, however, Ohio’s Secretary of State (and ostensibly Director of Programming) Jon Husted finally had enough from Lucas County’s Gang That Couldn’t Count Straight and is set to put an end to its run. I would caution Mr. Husted and his transparency committee, however, against believing that this latest move may finally resolve the problems. The trick with canceling a bad show is not as simple as getting rid of the old one (which may be difficult enough, knowing the litigious proclivities at least one of the soon-to-be former cast members in particular). The real skill will shown be in helping Northwest Ohio replace this last tired effort with a better one.

As for the current version of “The Crazy Ones” in Lucas County, we must now bid them a fond farewell.  To the relief of most, they have indeed been canceled and the cast duly informed in writing that their days in the spotlight are now numbered. Knowing that, however, one can’t help but wonder if any of those packing up their desks is capable of counting them. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TFP Column: The Blade Cuts Both Ways

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 6/07/2014.  

After years of castigating corporate America for failing to recognize Toledo’s convenient location, to see competitive advantage in its Downtown, or to appreciate its hardworking union workers, it appears that The Blade is about to tuck tail and follow in the footsteps of those they’ve previously chastised. What else can we take from formal notifications to the city and The Blade’s unions that it intends to outsource its production? Such an intention makes it difficult to reconcile the disparity between the claim of being one of the city’s biggest supporters and an apparent unwillingness to invest in its future.
Non-production functions will apparently remain in its Downtown facility, but The Blade appears ready to cease all production at both its Superior Street and Water Street facilities, with more than 130 people losing their jobs. While The Blade has not formally announced where that production will resurface, it’s likely that its plan will require abandoning not only the Glass City but the Buckeye State as well.

In its announcement, The Blade cites the age of the equipment and the challenges of an older building in its decision not to reinvest. Having recently announced that it will finance an almost identical investment for its Pittsburgh newspaper (The Post-Gazette) however, the refusal to bankroll improvement in Toledo might seem almost duplicitous.

From a purely business standpoint this becomes even more curious, considering that The Post-Gazette competes for its market share with another Pittsburgh daily (The Tribune-Review), while no such daily competition exists in Toledo. Does this speak to the market for news in both cities, or simply the red-headed stepchild status of The Blade under the absentee landlord nature of one of its owners?

As “One of America’s Great Newspapers” (self-described), The Blade tells us it lost $8.5 million last year by way of explanation (excuse) for its plan. Some might see this as “how the mighty have fallen,” or perhaps “reaping what you sow”; still others might see it as proof of the adage that “you shouldn’t crap where you eat.” Perhaps however, The Blade simply fell victim to its own stale business plan; like many of its ilk, it could not decide whether it wanted to be an award-winning business that occasionally made a profit or a profitable business that occasionally won an award.

As it now scales back in use, I’m sure some will see the Superior Street site as one that should be on a federal list of historic buildings. Others might agree to its entry on a list, but suggest instead that entry should be on a list of federal Superfund cleanup sites. One cannot help but wonder at the impact of petroleum-based inks, industrial chemicals and lubricants used over time. One might be even more curious about the disposal of decades of solvent-based cleaners used in their cleanup.

The damage of The Blade’s past political attacks may soon become history, but not so quickly whatever may have leeched into the soil and water supply from a facility only blocks from the Maumee River and a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. The toxic treatment of those held in disfavor over the years by The Blade may someday fade away, but not so easily the residue of chemicals used to produce them. As its production equipment is mothballed or removed for eventual sale, let’s hope The Blade makes more of a commitment to the proper remediation of such materials than they have to their Downtown location itself, and that such residue may not prove to be the only long-term legacy it leaves.

The Blade easily deserves one of the stinging rebukes it has been so fond of handing out throughout the years; and the failure in its announcement to promise anything in the way of change shows that its owners have learned nothing.  Some may say it seems a bit unfair to pile on The Blade, but few would argue that it’s undeserved.

Sorry guys, but it’s your turn to be on the firing line for picking up your chips and leaving the game early. After all, the blade cuts both ways.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

TFP Column: The Best Defense

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 6/20/2014.  
One cannot help but wonder if the Blade is adopting a new "best defense is a good offense" playbook in its continuing series on the subject of Glass City blight.  Wracked with well-documented revenue losses and stinging from attacks for outsourcing its production, the timely release of a series Toledo eyesore stories might be seen as the perfect (though rather suspicious) way to deflect attention from its own bad press. 
Taking the side of local YouTube videographer EconCat88, rather than that of the Administration (which it did last time) makes the Blade appear to be on the side of the little guy.  Allying with Councilman Jack Ford (vs supposed Independent Mayor D. Michael Collins) keeps them on the good side of the Democrats who've been in power while all of this blight occurred.  As for indicting a mayor that they've long supported as part of this effort; that's likely to cost them nothing. The mayor was sooner or later going to have to throw the Blade under the bus for their abandonment of downtown, if not for the elimination of union jobs, so the current series could be seen as little more than a preemptive strike. 

Of course the best part of the series is the gift likely to keep on giving for some time. The Blade has presented to City Council a subject not even on the radar screen a month earlier.  Distracting from dismal tax revenue, pot hole problems, and without talking about water and sewer line infrastructure issues that have long since faded from public view; this subject provides new opportunities for meaningless rhetoric, useless legislation, and the potential ability to create another taxpayer-funded study or two that must make it feel like Christmas in June for those is office.

Councilman Ford certainly seems to have discovered his new calling in life, attempting to establish his final legacy by creating another useless city bureaucracy in the form of a 'blight authority' to solve a problem that was just as prevalent when both he and his successor Mayor Finkbeiner were in the Mayor's position (before he attempts to move on to Columbus). After all, there's nothing that can resolve a crisis in short order like another government bureaucrat.

The current Mayor instead would like to deflect a problem that he largely inherited from his predecessors, and instead blame the Toledo Municipal Court and Judge Allen McConnell. Judge McConnell, according to the mayor's recent statement, is dealing with over 500 affidavits filed against blighted properties by the city in just the past year. One cannot help but ask, if the impediment is the Court, why there is no discussion of additional funding and staff for what appears to be an overworked judicial system rather than adding a city bureaucracy. Equally unclear is how the Mayor's proposal of a phone app is going to magically clear the existing judicial backlog.

Wait, this is Toledo (where you'll do better)! Remind me again about how long the 'temporary income tax' has been in place as a way to artificially balance the budget. Tell me again how much were borrowing from the Capital Improvement Budget (far better suited to deal with the issue of blight in the city) and how many years we've been borrowing it.

Better still, tell me why the Blade, already suffering from an image problem on a scale that it never knew existed, hasn't proposed a charity event to raise funds in order to deal with the issue of blight instead of merely reporting on it. Tell me why City Council, having only in the last week rediscovered the issue of blight in the city, hasn't put forth the idea of dealing with the issue on a district level and on a volunteer basis. How about one or more of these elected leaders simply revisiting some of their current budget discussions and making a hard choice as to which is more important to their constituents, swimming pools or blight.

While we're at it, perhaps someone in the editorial department at the Blade might want to do a bit more research on the ownership of 'blighted properties' to make sure that some of those on the list aren't properties owned by … the Blade. While certainly not qualified to preach, I seem to recall a Biblical phrase to the effect of, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Just for the sake of editorial consistency, of course.)