Various groups are sponsoring political forums featuring Toledo’s mayoral candidates during this fall’s campaign. Some are holding the meetings at branches of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
Because the library is supported by taxpayer dollars, its policy properly requires such events to be open to all who want to attend. All groups need to play by these rules, and the candidates shouldn’t play along with those that don’t.
Last week, the African American Leadership Caucus of the Lucas County Democratic Party excluded some citizens and journalists from a mayoral forum at Mott Branch Library. The group’s representative and self-appointed doorkeeper, attorney Keith Mitchell, had signed a library form that declares: “All scheduled events must be open to the public.”
Judy Jones, the Mott branch manager, warned Mr. Mitchell in a letter scolding him about signing the form and then going back on his promise that “any future meeting room reservation from you or the African American Leadership Caucus may be denied if our public meeting room policy is further ignored.”
If a signature alone doesn’t guarantee good behavior, the library could toughen enforcement of its rules by adding more-specific penalties for violations. Meeting-room guidelines could be posted prominently in all 19 library branches.
The library’s branch services administrator, Susan Skitowski, told The Blade’s editorial page this week that the library board’s community relations committee is due to take another look at the guidelines, which were last updated in 2007. It’s time.
But political candidates also must refuse to appear at closed forums in public places. Both Mayor Mike Bell and challenger D. Michael Collins continued to address the forum despite the closure. So much for their pledges of transparency.
Citizens must have open access to the full political and civic process if they are to participate and make informed choices in a democracy. Any group that wants to meet privately with the candidates can do so.
It just can’t do so in the tax-subsidized public library. Sometimes, the only way to get through to people who close doors is to show them what it’s like to be on the other side of the door.
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