Hartung attends seminar on dealing with ‘angry public’

By Joshua Benton and Chris Osher
Blade Staff Writers

Page 9

In a perfect world, a public servant wouldn’t need to spend $1,175 to learn how to deal with an angry public.

But it’s not a perfect world, at least for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

For two days last month, port board President James Hartung went to suburban Boston to learn from top “conflict resolution” professors as part of the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program.

The seminar, “Dealing With An Angry Public,” provided advice to executives forced to deal with citizens miffed at their actions.

It’s designed for people who, in the words of a brochure, “failed to live up to a promise,” “said something that wasn’t true,” or caused “widespread public alarm” or “a threat of catastrophe.”

Among the issues discussed:

* “Turning confrontation into constructive negotiation.”

* “Uncovering the real interests of the other side.”

* “What do you do about individuals who are totally unrealistic, or who seek to manipulate the situation for their own gain?”

* “How do you work with the media to shape public acceptance?”

* “What new techniques can you use to counter unfavorable media coverage?”

The program’s “who should attend” list reads like a Ralph Nader nightmare: oil companies that have had a big spill, hospitals facing malpractice suits, construction firms being sued for structural defects, tobacco giants facing regulation, and supermarkets accused of selling toxic food.

The brochure touts its “mutual gains” approach, which advocates getting adversaries to see solutions to help both sides. “When a crisis threatens your company’s reputation or market share, how can you work quickly and cost effectively to avoid potential disaster?” the brochure asks.

Among the plaudits the program has received from past students: “For those who think interactions with the public are hopeless, this course gives you a way to see a light at the end of the tunnel”; and, “This program is a must for anyone who deals in a hostile environment.”

In addition to the $1,175 tuition fee, the port authority spent $357.58 for Mr. Hartung to spend two nights at a Marriott in Cambridge, Mass., and $1,084 on a plane ticket. That ticket included another leg of his trip – going to Washington for the Blade-sponsored Capital Connection, a three-day program for area leaders.

Asked about the “Angry Public” seminar that he decided to attend, Mr. Hartung said in a prepared statement: “The essence of the seminar was to become skilled in the mutual gains approach to conflict resolution, in a win-win negotiation setup.”

He concluded that “it would be beneficial to his responsibility as the port authority’s lead negotiator and allow him to begin to integrate his body of knowledge into the business, economic development, and community relations aspects of the port authority,” said spokesman Ron Skulas.

Rec fund seems possible

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

School’s out.

If you believe Toledo Councilman Bob McCloskey, children too often have two options: Do something fun and potentially productive, or get into trouble.

“I’d rather spend $10 to put a child in a rec program than $500 to incarcerate him,” he said.

And if he and other community leaders get their way, those children soon may have more recreation options than ever.

It’s a proposal that’s been tossed around One Government Center for more than a year, one that council members have said would be one of the most important things they could do for Toledo’s children.

The plan, offered by the nonprofit Toledo Community Recreation Program, Inc., would create a citywide system of recreation programs.

It is the brainchild of Tim Yenrick, executive director of the East Toledo Family Center. For more than 10 years, the center has had a successful recreation program for children east of the Maumee River. Mr. Yenrick wanted to move it citywide, building on pro grams doing well in other parts of the city.

“There is a lot of need in some parts of the city,” he said.

Under the proposal, programs would be divided geographically by the boundaries of Toledo’s six council districts. Each district would have a coordinator in charge of determining what programs each area needs. One could focus on soccer and basketball, another on music and art.

Each district would have a full-time coordinator in charge of running the programs. Mr. Yenrick estimated the cost of a full year of services at $235,000.

Last year, he created a not-for-profit corporation, formed a board of directors, and tried to figure out how to fund it.

Mayor Finkbeiner, council members, and recreation activists have all come out in favor of the project. But finding the money has been a battle.

First, last spring, city natural resources director Jim Barney was criticized when three weeks after he promised council members that his department could fund the program, he said there was no money. He said the error was caused by his unfamiliarity with Toledo’s budget process.

Then, in February, Mr. McCloskey proposed finding the money in the city’s parks trust fund. That fund, with a principal of $2.8 million, was founded in 1991 with the taxes on the estate of Paul Block, Jr., The Blade’s publisher from 1942 to 1987. The councilman suggested borrowing $235,000 for the recreation program from the principal of the trust fund, then repaying the debt by devoting 1 per cent of the city’s budget carryover to the trust fund each year.

He couldn’t get any support from his colleagues, who said the trust fund should be left untouched to generate interest; so the rec program has gone unfunded.

But project leaders say they may be close to finding the money they need. Mr. Yenrick said he believes city leaders may be able to identify a money source within a month. The exact amount needed depends on how late in the year the program starts; a later start would mean the cost would be prorated significantly from the $235,000 a full year would cost.

City officials have been poring over budget numbers, searching for places to siphon off a few thousand dollars. Mr. McCloskey said some of the money would come from unspent community block grant funds, and some would come from interest from the parks trust fund.

Despite criticism he faced with his earlier proposal, Mr. McCloskey said he is still looking at using some of the trust fund’s principal.

The councilman blamed The Blade for the lack of movement on the program. The newspaper ran editorials opposing the trust-fund loan after Mr. McCloskey’s idea became public.

Some points are left to be ironed out. Union officials representing city workers have expressed concerns that the private, not-for-profit program might take away jobs from the bargaining unit. Mr. McCloskey, himself a union negotiator for striking Libbey-Owens-Ford workers, said no jobs would be affected.

But all sides say they believe the city council will be considering a proposal to fund the program in a month or so, which would give thousands of Toledo children something else to do.

If the funding comes through soon, Mr. Yenrick said programs could start as soon as this fall, perhaps with a citywide soccer program.

“We continue to make steps forward,” Mr. Yenrick said.