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Published: 11/18/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Public assets shouldn’t be sold like junk

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

When I asked former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner what he thought of the proposed private takeover of Toledo Express Airport, he had a good one-word answer: “Outrageous.”

I'm with Carty.

Dock David Treece, a partner in Treece Investments, has proposed a “new, privately owned entity that will assume management of Toledo Express” to the Bell administration.

“The property will still be owned by the city,” Mr. Treece wrote to the administration, but would need “complete operational control of all public facilities” and the right to “sell, lease, transfer, assign, or hypothecate” property at or near the airport.

So what is Mr. Treece and his company putting on the table?

Nothing. And that's what the city should give back to him: nothing; a dead phone line; no serious consideration at all.

Here's why:

First, as a matter of principle, publicly held assets should not be sold off to balance budgets or to get public officials through budget crises. Public assets are not old junk at a yard sale.

They are a public trust.

They can be properly used as leverage and for private-public partnerships. But they should never be given up at public fire sales for short-term fiscal gain.

Yes, the Chinese paid us money for valuable land on the river, and yes they are paying taxes now. But the city lost a valuable public good. The whole point of local government is to protect public goods.

Second, this deal has no meat; no center; no substance.

We have city government holding secret discussions with would-be developers who have no expertise in running an airport — indeed, as far as we know, no knowledge at all of airports.

We have city government holding secret discussions with would-be developers who have no business plan for the asset they hope to acquire — indeed, not even a semblance of one.

Though the Port Authority has repeatedly asked for some sort of plan, any sort of plan, they have been given nothing.

The phrase “pig in a poke” was invented for this deal.

In fact, I don't understand why the Bell administration held a second discussion with these gentlemen. After one meeting, they should have been told: Come back when you have something for us.

And the public and council should have been informed of this dalliance from Day 1.

The whole thing is, indeed, outrageous. And it is disturbing that it got this far.

Mind you, I am all for new approaches to the airport. Everyone is. It is losing money. And I am all for private enterprise, and self-made men, and the entrepreneurial spirit, and creating public-private enterprises.

But it looks to me like this deal was given a hearing because of a blind faith in anyone who has money, or claims to have it, with no application of due diligence — and with no sense of what should be the driving motive of all local government: protect the community.

What does that mean, practically? Many things. But one is: protect the city’s public assets.

Mayor Finkbeiner, whatever else one may say about him, fiercely loved and protected the city. That's why I'm with him on this airport deal.

Take care of our public assets.

Protect them; don't lease them to businessmen with secret plans.

I think this deal is dead but, just to be safe, let's drive a stake through its heart.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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