Thursday, July 1, 2004

Drake Center doesn't need to go negative

Peter Bronson

When a woman stood up in a public hearing and said some people are afraid to oppose Drake Center's $100 million levy request, a pro-Drake member of the review committee, David Cook, mocked her by asking if they were like the "foreign leaders'' who endorsed John Kerry.

There's no similarity. Kerry couldn't name a single foreign leader. But it's not that hard to find attacks by Drake.

"When you are up against very big money, it skews how people behave,'' said Tax Levy Review Committee Chairman Chris Finney. "When you stand between people and their money, it gets very nasty, very personal, very quickly.''

Finney knows. He has been a target. But the sniping injured Drake more than its opponents.

"There was an e-mail that was very disparaging of Finney,'' said Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich, who will soon vote on Drake's request. "I was very offended by this. Here you have a guy who's volunteering and not being paid, just trying to do his job to make sure we hear both sides.''

The e-mail was circulated by Maureen Odioso Godshall, president and primary stockholder of Loren Allen Odioso Advertising. Drake spends about $600,000 on TV, radio and billboard ads, and Godshall's company has the contract. It also has the contract for Drake's levy campaign.

Godshall's e-mail said Finney "and his cronies in COAST - the very far right anti-tax activist group - have targeted Drake as their sacrificial lamb.''

It said Finney "bullied'' the committee, although he was later outvoted, and scorched him for "overstepping his bounds,'' although he was appointed chairman of the group assigned to review the levy request.

"That was my personal e-mail, not an official action,'' Godshall said. "Drake had no knowledge of it and did not approve it.''

Drake is not allowed to spend public money to campaign for tax levies. So how is it ethical for an advertising agency that gets the same public money to fight for levies on Drake's behalf?

"Free'' pro-levy signs and stickers were supplied by Drake's ad agency , said Drake spokeswoman Kathy Graham. She also targeted Finney and threatened to file a state ethics complaint against him for "organizing'' the opposition.

Finney admits he invited opponents, so both sides could be heard, but he denied organizing them. In any case, they were out-numbered and out-organized by Drake. Graham later dropped the complaint.

Drake has a great story to tell. During a tour last week, I saw a clean, professional, friendly and inspiring hospital. It is impossible to walk the halls and not think: There but for the grace of God is my child in a wheelchair, my spouse in therapy or me, trying to stand and walk.

Drake spends $1.2 million on public relations, and CEO Roberta Bradford makes $368,000, including a 10 percent annual bonus. They don't need my free advice. But here it is anyway:

Stick to the positives and quit attacking people who have every right to raise questions about a 39-percent levy increase.

Commissioner Todd Portune, who is a Drake therapy patient, has a plan to cut the levy by peeling off $6 million in non-Drake spending. It's a good start.

Finney says the county should require any agency that gets tax levy income to comply with open records laws, prohibit nepotism and ban use of public money to promote levies.

That's a good idea, too - even better if they also ban levy campaigning by private contractors who eat at the tax-levy potluck.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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