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Published: Saturday, 3/1/2008

If the 0.75 % income tax levy fails, black neighborhoods will hurt most

BY ROSE RUSSELL

LET'S be candid. Black Toledoans have complained about slow police response. Now, if renewal of the 0.75 percent income tax levy on Tuesday's ballot is defeated, we ain't seen nothing yet.

Yep, and it doesn't get any plainer than that.

If the Rev. Floyd Rose-Perlean Griffin faction successfully defeats the measure, then we can count on him to police our neighborhoods, Mrs. Griffin to drive a refuse truck to collect city garbage, and other key figures in that league to fight fires, right?

Don't count on it. If the levy fails, Mr. Rose won't be forced to contend with what to do about trash overrunning his property or the city if municipal services are reduced. Nor will he have to pray more fervently that he won't need to call the police or fire departments, who might take longer to respond once forces are reduced. He lives in Valdosta, Ga.

So if the levy is rejected, Toledo City Councilwoman Wilma Brown won't be the only one flame-proofing her home and not driving personal cars after safety services are cut.

It's true that, in the dreadful event of defeat, there is another chance to put the measure on the ballot in November to get it passed in time before those funds run out at the end of the year.

But don't bank on that faction settling differences in time to put the issue on the fall ballot and to whip up enough support to get it passed.

This revolves around business from the 22nd floor of One Government Center, where Mayor Carleton S. Finkbeiner hails and rules with an iron fist.

When a city employee doesn't fall in lockstep with his demands, that iron fist hammers the person into shape - or smithereens.

In Mrs. Griffin's case, her refusal to support his cost-cutting decision to downgrade the affirmative action office last March led to her firing.

Two other black city workers in connection with that case were also let go from their jobs in 2007.

Then in January, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found "probable cause" that Mrs. Griffin and the other two former employees' firings or layoffs were due to "unlawful discriminatory practice" by the Finkbeiner administration.

The political maneuvering to unseat Councilman Michael Ashford from the council presidency and to put Councilman Mark Sobczak in his place has been described as unsatisfactory to the black community.

If people want to be upset that Mr. Sobczak is now president of council, fine. But not all black Toledoans were disturbed about that politicking.

The mayor's moves gave birth to a new Toledo chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, initiated by the good Reverend Rose and headed by Mrs. Griffin.

Its purpose, it appears, is to defeat the tax measure and to get the guys who run the city to the table to address issues.

Although I have a pretty good idea as to what those grievances are, I have yet to hear specifically what the Rose-Griffin faction/SCLC is disgruntled about.

Meanwhile, it is correct that, as I wrote a year ago when the mayor was about to close the affirmative action office, Toledo has concerns on the racial front that need addressing. However, defeating the 0.75 percent tax is not the best tactic. Why? The very people whose attention the Rose-Griffin faction is trying to get won't suffer.

As Mount Pilgrim Church Pastor Raymond Bishop, Jr. said, "The mayor would be safe and secure. He has security, so we wouldn't be getting his attention." The rest of us may not be so fortunate.

Here's another negative fallout: 735 city workers would be laid off. That includes 456 police officers and firefighters. Both departments are only 1,146 strong. After layoffs, only 690 would be left to fight the bad guys and fires.

None of this is to disparage firefighters, police officers, or refuse collectors, who take their jobs as civil servants seriously. However, the sheer reduction in numbers could mean that safety officers will not be there to respond to calls in black neighborhoods. There is a real concern about safety being widely discussed in some African-American circles.

Is that what this group wants? To feel responsible for putting people's lives in danger in the event the levy fails and forces are reduced because of the absence of funding?

Though I respect Reverend Rose, I disagree with his approach to resolving Toledo's racial concerns in a way that could result in harm to residents, black, white, and every other race.

This is nothing like the Birmingham bus boycott.

Another method that does not put residents' lives in danger must be identified to get city officials to the table.

So there is no mistake, I am not doing the mayor's bidding. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And while I respect the office of the mayor, I have also likewise vehemently disagreed with this mayor through the years.

If the levy passes, the mayor shouldn't think black Toledoans are telling him that all is well after all. It is not.

Oh, and by the way: ditto for Issue 7, the Toledo Public School renewal levy also on Tuesday's ballot.

It also deserves voters' support.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

E-mail rrussell@theblade.com



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