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Paula Hicks-Hudson was right to wonder if the Board of Community Relations is worth the city’s investment

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A proposal by former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson to stop funding the position of executive director of the Board of Community Relations is a good one, and is one that emerged from the process of priority-based budgeting, which is a good process.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson is not the first to wonder whether the Board of Community Relations has a clear focus and purpose. Some members of city council have wondered. But the former mayor took a firm stand — the right one.

For whatever reason, BCR Executive Director Linda Alvarado-Arce has come to concentrate her time almost entirely on “mediations.” In her report to city council and the mayor, she said she conducted 97 mediation sessions last year. Meanwhile, there was not much activity by the board itself.

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Is that what BCR and its 26-member board of community leaders — many of them from the religious community — was set up to do? It is not.

Furthermore, there is already a program in Toledo Municipal Court that is empowered to carry out mediations.

It didn’t help when it came to light in May that Ms. Alvarado-Arce had intervened on behalf of the sexually oriented Westwood Theater against efforts by neighborhood groups to shut the theater down and return the X-rated theater to a more “family friendly” function. Then-Councilman Lindsay Webb filed a blistering letter expressing her dismay and demanding Ms. Alvarado-Arce be reprimanded.

Nothing was done about reprimanding Ms. Alvarado-Arce. But now her position may well be defunded. With Ms. Hicks-Hudson out of office, it will be up to Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz to decide the director funding’s fate.

The problem of BCR’s funding was clarified by priority-based budgeting — a new way of evaluating the city’s budget and scoring programs to find out whether they are really worth the taxpayers’ money — $111,020 a year, in the case of BCR.

BCR’s low score gave then-Mayor Hicks-Hudson the justification she needed to tell BCR it needs to chart a new course.

Mayor Hicks-Hudson proposed to cut the director’s compensation — $66,306 for salary and $28,494 for benefits — out of the budget, reduce the agency’s budget to $86,775, and then allocate that directly to programming, for initiatives like the Black and Brown Coalition. That group can actually improve community relations.  

The Black and Brown Coalition is an ad hoc group  — union leaders, the city police department, NAACP, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, youth representatives from the neighborhoods — that came together to create the “code of conduct” that was signed in November aimed at restoring civility between police and black and Latino youth.

The BCR should be about action, not a fat salary for bureaucrats who duplicate the work of the courts. The city needs more volunteerism and direct participation, not  more executive directors. 

It needs to fund programs, and priority-based budgeting forces a real reckoning.

The ex-mayor made a clear and firm decision here. May the new mayor do the same.

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