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Published: Monday, 3/1/2004

Tainted cash unwelcome

Despite a down economy that has had an undeniable effect on charitable donations in our region - United Way's recent campaign fell short of its goal - two local charities summoned the courage the other day to tell Taverns for Tots what it could do with its money: Keep it.

Taverns for Tots tried to give away $14,000 in a pair of $7,000 checks to FOCUS Homeless Services on Ashland Avenue and Connecting Point, a youth addiction treatment agency on Cherry Street.

In theory, it might seem to be a good match: an outfit which contends it just wants to help children and two agencies whose mission is serving disadvantaged kids.

But forget theory. Taverns for Tots is a sham, and the two agencies saw through the gesture.

Taverns for Tots was created three months ago for one reason: to provide Toledo bar owners a means to go private and hopefully do a nifty end run around the city's ban on smoking in public places. Create a bogus organization, charge tavern customers a dollar to join, and gain an exemption from the ban. Then turn the "membership" fees over to charity. That was the plan.

Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be fooling anybody.

The two charities singled out for the donations turned the money down after learning its true source. Officials at both indicated they only discovered the Taverns for Tots connection when they received a press release sent to news media organizations.

Though there is disagreement on that point - Taverns for Tots says it disclosed its involvement prior to the public announcement - there is no denying the positive and courageous step taken by Connecting Point and FOCUS in wanting nothing to do with the organization's money.

A $7,000 donation is a substantial windfall for a small charity. But as Maja Reed, executive director of FOCUS, explained, her organization has turned down money in the past when sharp philosophical differences with the donors were obvious. Taverns for Tots' determination to thwart the smoking ban is at odds with her agency's mission, she said.

FOCUS and Connecting Point should be commended. Frankly, their public stance makes all the more mysterious the silence of the suburbs, and more specifically, elected representatives such as state Rep. Lynn Olman, on the smoking ban issue.

The tide of public opinion cannot be turned back. Rather than try to extract profit from Toledo's ban, the cities of Maumee, Sylvania, and Oregon should be enacting their own, and the legislature should put a constitutional amendment before the voters to make a ban on smoking in public places the law everywhere in Ohio.

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