Monday, May 21, 2018
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Keith Burris


Small ideas to produce a big debate



Cynics say ideas don’t matter in a political campaign, especially a local one. That’s wrong.

What the political scientists call the “attentive public” is decisive in a local election. They think, read, and care.

Low turnout creates a self-selected subset of motivated, passionate voters. And they respond to ideas that are practical and possible — let’s call them small-bore ideas. Global warming doesn’t figure much in a local election. But kids with asthma do.

Here are five small ideas for The Blade’s mayoral debate Wednesday — gathered from candidates and citizens in the course of this campaign thus far:

  • Form a blight authority with a strong civilian board and a large number of volunteers (perhaps beginning with UT, Bowling Green, and Owens students) and expand the legal definition of blight to include aspects of sanitation and health.
  • Use some surplus money to form a parks trust fund. This fund could be managed by a civilian (also volunteer) investment board and, as a trust, help to make the parks system less dependent on the general fund and the vicissitudes of politics.
  • Continue to expand the community gardens, both from the Toledo GROWs base and the many private gardens in the north end and in East Toledo. Treat it as an anti-poverty and a health initiative. Toledo has a seemingly anomalous two-pronged problem — hunger and obesity. Both problems are most severe in our young.
  • We also have many vacant lots. If we tripled our public gardens in five years we would feed many children and feed them good food.
  • Revive the youth entrepreneur program. Former Mayor Jack Ford founded this program during his administration. He funded it privately. It works this way: Lend a young person with a simple business plan the money for a start-up micro-business. (It might be mowing lawns.) The youngster pays back the loan and begins to earn and save his own money.
  • Ford did this for a relative pittance; the program, after initial funding, was self-sustaining, and it provided work for many.
  • Start a driver’s ed work program: Allow kids who can’t afford to pay for driver’s ed at age 16 to earn a voucher for the course with 40 hours of labor for their school, from grounds work to janitorial work. I am sure there are other, even better small ideas out there.

And here is a big idea bonus, but it’s based on a simple, small concept — bang for the buck: Look for ways to consolidate the city’s, and the county’s, poverty programs. We are talking millions of dollars spent every year, but so many of those dollars seem to be lost in separate bureaucratic silos and mazes.

If the city were rated, as private charities are, for its ability to get money to the people it is intended to help, it would probably get one star, maybe two, out of five. We can do better.

One out of four of us is poor in Toledo — 25 percent of our neighbors. And we are one auto industry recession away from calamity.

To get the bang for the buck we need to attack fragmentation and duplication in our various anti-poverty programs.

The next mayor needs ideas, but ones that can be realized. Small acts of kindness change lives. Small ideas that can actually be achieved change cities.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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