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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2003

Quality of life falls above bottom line

Gee, how often can you read a news story based on the grinding gears of local government, only to be prompted afterward to have a soulful heart-to-heart with yourself about the artistic and spiritual life of your community, and even about whether the police are doing enough to help and encourage kids?

You know, any time you can put down the newspaper and be thus inspired, I say you sure got your fifty cents worth out of us.

So it was this weekend when I read the account of what was described as a “philosophical rift'' among Lucas County's board of commissioners.

Commissioner Maggie Thurber was reported to be put out when her two counterparts gave thumbs-up for county contributions to three organizations: the Toledo Opera, Toledo Metropolitan Ministries, and the Police Athletic League.

All told, the county parted with $14,000.

This failed to put Ms. Thurber in a warm 'n' fuzzy mood.

At a time when the county is facing a deficit (oh, and by the way, welcome to the life of a modern-day American politician, Ms. Thurber, as we're sure you're already too painfully aware), the lone Republican commissioner thought it was “fiscally irresponsible'' to shell out money for organizations which the county is under no actual obligation to help fund.

Ms. Thurber made a point of noting that Harry Barlos, the president of the commissioners, often speaks of how dreary the economy is, and of how this unhappy fact only makes the prospect of layoffs loom closer. His approval to plump up the coffers of the three groups in question, therefore, constituted “a contradiction of statements,'' according to Ms. Thurber.

In this way, Ms. Thurber only echoes the sentiments of many an elected official who's faced with the prudent management of a strained budget during a time when the economy is gasping and wheezing.

There are plenty of others, representing all sorts of governmental entities, who would nod in sage agreement with Ms. Thurber's reasoning. This is the same reasoning, for example, with which school boards slash away at arts programs whenever the budget numbers look menacing.

Well, c'mon. First things first, after all.

Let's make sure we tend to the basics, to the community's necessities, before we fritter away money on the nonessentials.

But then, just what precisely are “nonessentials''?

I'm thinking back to Toledo's former mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, who, like most pols, was a big fan of quantification. Remember the pride with which he would announce the annual number of roadway miles repaved by city workers?

But how should we measure the effectiveness of dollars given over to a school education program run by the opera?

That one just doesn't fit into a spread sheet cell, does it?

And yet, I would agree with people like Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who argue that contributing to such programs is merely contributing to our overall quality of life - that element of a community which is every bit as desired as it is difficult to define.

Ms. Thurber, of course, gets credit for keeping a flinty eye on the bottom line.

But then again, there's more to life than that.



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