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Published: Thursday, 5/21/2009

City cuts trim more than grass

"Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner outlines staff restructuring"

- Past headline from Tuesday's newspaper

"Toledo wins All-America City Award; No officials available to attend ceremony"

- Future possible worst-case-scenario headline

TOLEDO - City officials today - both of them - were ecstatic to learn Toledo once again snagged high municipal honors. But the ceremony honoring this "All-America City" will have to proceed without the winner.

Carleton S. Finkbeiner, Toledo's mayor-mower, said yesterday no city money is available to field a delegation.

And even if the city treasurer unearthed travel funds, only Mr. Finkbeiner and one other staffer remain on the municipal payroll, the mayor-mower said.

"I'd pay for myself to go," he added, "except the ceremony's on a Wednesday, and that's my morning to cut the grass at Forest Cemetery."

It's a far cry from 1998, when Toledo spent $15,000 to send a 180-person contingent to the awards meeting. The effort was affectionately called "ridiculous" by an award spokesman, and laughingly dubbed "way overboard" by one of the city's now-numerous ex-spokesmen.

The city's current precariously low staffing level has its roots in early 2009, when officials responded to widespread layoffs by heaping multiple titles onto remaining staffers. Officials said they were forced eventually to slash beyond the bone and into municipal marrow.

Now the city has just two paid employees, whose official titles are Mayor-Mower-City Garage Parking Attendant-Etc., etc., and Chief of Staff-Dog Walker-Treasurer-Refuse Collector-Etc., etc.

"Those et ceteras," the mayor-mower acknowledged yesterday, "are killin' us."

Mr. Finkbeiner had not been expected to continue in office beyond 2009, during which the mayoral race at one time fielded a dozen or so candidates.

But by Election Day, spiraling economic conditions had whittled down the slate of willing candidates to two: Mr. Finkbeiner and Opal Covey.

Mayor-Mower Finkbeiner claimed victory by a 16-vote margin in the contested race, the recount for which ultimately rivaled Minnesota's Franken-Coleman Senate smackdown and eventually led the Lucas County Board of Elections into bankruptcy.

While in an alley yesterday carrying out rat patrol, the mayor-mower was garbed in a black T-shirt originally worn by the 1998 All-America City contingent. It said: "Toledo: Just Look at Us Now."

"Sure am glad," the mayor-mower said, "that I kept some swag from the good old days."

Roberta de Boer is a columnist for The Blade.

At toledoblade.com on Tuesdays each week, she and sports columnist Dave Hackenberg offer point-counterpoint on issues large and small.

Contact her at:

roberta@thblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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