Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Do something together

Remember that one liner from a popular commercial: “Let's build something together”?

It might seem totally counter to the divisive politics of 2016, but government is at its best when it builds something.

And governments (plural) are at their best when they work together.

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The sad truth is that greater Toledo cannot progress and prosper unless governments start building things together. But, in case after case, in matters large (regional water) and small (buying a drone to aid safety forces), attempts at cooperation collapse or are torpedoed.

And, very often, it is the government of the city of Toledo that destroys the possibility of cooperation. That’s ironic, because the city needs the help of surrounding communities to survive. And, without a healthy central city, the towns and townships of Greater Toledo sink too.

The legal war between Toledo and Lucas County over paying for the costs of prisoners, is, perhaps, the most egregious case in point.

One major battle in that war has now been settled. But there should not be such a war. It’s dumb and counterproductive.

The matter is not, in essence, a legal problem, but a political, fiscal, and human problem: How to work together to deal with our arrested and incarcerated population. How the county and the city can both meet their responsibilities and not go broke.

For now, the city has won. A judge has held that the county is responsible for the cost of jailing defendants Toledo police arrest.

The dispute began in 2014, when police, under orders from the late Mayor D. Michael Collins, began charging suspects under state law, rather than the municipal code. That way, the city could argue that it did not have to pay for people it was arresting and sending to jail. It was a rather cynical way to help balance the books. Mr. Collins famously said he was the mayor of Toledo, not Lucas County.

The county’s response was: You can’t pull the plug. We depend on this money!

Neither side was exactly on the moral, or public policy, high ground.

The city has also maintained that jail bed costs, previously assigned to the city, should be reduced along the lines of the new charging policy: These are not OUR criminals. Some other entity should pay to house them.

Does that seem even more cynical — shamelessly cynical?

Indeed, the city’s lawsuit against the county asked the courts to hold the county responsible for housing all “state” prisoners — charged under state law — regardless of which agency arrested them and which court sentenced them.

This is all a shell game, and one that demeans the county and the city, not to mention those who work in the county jail and those who are held there.

Lucas County desperately needs a new jail. There is much to decide relative to its size and design, but we know we need a new facility. The current one is Dickensian.

How are we to build a new jail with this childish nonsense going on?

County Commissioner Pete Gerken has said he does not expect the city to help build the new jail, but he does expect it to pay for its prisoners and their beds.

Andy Douglas, the retired Ohio Supreme Court justice who represented the city in the lawsuit, urged city and county officials and their lawyers to sit down and talk through this matter and, in effect, cut a deal, rather than pursue appeals in the courts.

That’s exactly what should be done and the only way forward if we are ever to learn to cooperate regionally, and build things together.

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