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Published: Monday, 9/29/2003

Learning curve exacts high price

One of the saddest things about public policy is that many people who practice it don't know what they don't know.

Several Toledo councilmen have said they had no way of predicting the financial hit that small bars and bowling alleys might take after their smoking ban went into effect last month. University of Toledo police and officials said they had no way of forecasting that the raucous fan behavior after their football team's surprise victory over Pittsburgh would lead to serious injuries for two students.

In truth, it can be difficult - and sometimes very costly - to plan for something that has never occurred, on the off chance it might.

Many times, leaders end up following, reacting after something - usually something bad - has happened.

At best, it is terribly inefficient. Having already passed the smoking ban in July, Toledo council held another hearing on it last Monday. At UT, committees will likely spend weeks, if not months, rehashing the aftermath of the Pittsburgh game.

In worst-case scenarios, innocent people pay a horrendous price for those in charge to take a trip across the learning curve.

Such is the case with Esther Munn, the UT student who found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time after the game. She was apparently struck in the head by a goal post that overzealous fans had ripped from its mooring in the end zone, carried out of the Glass Bowl, and dumped into a nearby river in a post-game fog induced, one assumes, by the unexpected victory.

She was critically injured, and remains hospitalized.

An active theater and music major with a vibrant personality and a boatload of friends and admirers - including this writer - her life will certainly be changed dramatically in the short run, and perhaps forever.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said Wednesday he will wait to see what the UT committees come up with before he decides whether the city ought to jump into the mix.

But for a school that prepared for the Pittsburgh game by adding more bleacher seats to the stadium, the UT committees will no doubt try to answer why it didn't also take more precautions to keep the post-game celebration under control.

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Notable in the week following the incident were comments from students on campus who looked into television news cameras and said that such riotous behavior just occasionally happens, and no one should be seriously punished for losing control.

This comes at a time when, according to a new report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures, an Internet survey found that young people have less interest in government and civic life than their elders.

“This public opinion survey shows that young people do not understand the ideals of citizenship, they are disengaged from the political process, they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government, and their appreciation and support of American democracy is limited,” the report states.

It indicates young Americans have a diminished internal sense of the world around them. The UT incident indicates they have diminished self-control, and are at the mercy of external stimuli.

At a time when voter turnout seems on a permanent slide and because our system of government depends on voluntary, not compulsory, citizen participation, it is a challenge to find hope that the next generation is going to turn things around.

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“What were they thinking?”

That's the question state Rep. Lynn Olman was asking the other day when the subject of private use of public cars popped up. The subject, of course, is on local minds in the wake of Blade reports that some county officials have used publicly owned cars for private use, which is contrary to state law. Mr. Olman, a successful insurance agent who drives a gleaming black Corvette to public appearances, made a pledge:

“You will never find me driving a county car.”

Duh!

A day passed before I realized that Mr. Olman, who is rumored to be mulling a race for Lucas County commissioner next year, might have been making a campaign pledge.

After all, you aren't offered a county car unless you are a county official.



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