Opinion column: Pass-the-buck season alive and well in Ohio


Russ Kent - Galion Inquirer



Where’s Harry Truman when you need him?

You know Harry, the 33rd president of the United States. He made the phrase “the buck stops here” famous.

That’s the type of leadership Ohio was getting in the spring.

But lately? Not so much.

Two weeks before the start of the high school football season, we still have no idea if games are going to be played.

Hints were tossed about in recent days.

There were rumors high school football would be discussed Tuesday.

And then there were rumors about a Thursday announcement.

It’s Thursday evenings as I write this, and thousands of high school football players, parents and coaches have no idea what is going to happen in two weeks.

The 2020-21 season is still very much up in the air.

However, Ohio’s pass-the-buck season is in full swing.

That’s not what we need right now.

We need Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to step up to the podium and take responsibility and ownership of the decisions being made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He became a media favorite in the spring when he took strong, decision action in an effort to “flatten the curve” in response to COVID-19.

He took some hits when he cancelled classroom-learning and classroom-teaching in Ohio. Still, for the most part, DeWine was praised by health-care experts and others convinced he had done the right thing.

If you compare COVID-19 numbers in Ohio vs. other states, those experts were correct.

There are reasons Ohio has not witnessed the type of COVID-19 outbreaks that have afflicted other states.

The No. 1 reason? DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health issued orders, not recommendations.

They took ownership of their tough decisions.

DeWine never wavered, despite the possible political consequences.

But in recent weeks, DeWine’s strategy seems to have changed.

Many believe COVID-19 remains a danger to our daily lives.

Many do not. They don’t see a major health care crisis. They see precautions as inconveniences and attacks on individual rights.

I’m one of the former. I believe COVID-19 is a danger.

That’s why we need one person calling the shots. We need one person in charge. We need a face leading the charge to protect us during this pandemic.

As summer arrived, and with COVID-19 numbers leveling off, many ODH orders became recommendations.

Those recommendations were promptly ignored by many, and were soon followed by spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Recommendations don’t work.

Mandates are much more effective.

I liken rules and regulations having to do with COVID-19 with medication taken for mental illness.

Many take medication to stave off depression and other mental disorders.

Unfortunately, when some people with mental disorders start to feel better, they stop taking their meds. They think they are cured, and that preventive medication is no longer needed.

And the mental illness returns.

Such is current life with COVID-19.

We ‘flattened the curve.’ We won. We defeated COVID-19!

Wrong!

That’s why we need stronger leadership in Columbus. That’s why we need a face behind tough decisions.

Mike DeWine should be that face.

He needs to be the one we cheer for when things go right. He also needs to be the one we blame when things go wrong.

That’s an important role for leaders.

They need to be the face for good, and bad.

A lot of COVID-19 decision making has been turned over to local entities — fair boards, school boards and school district superintendents — based on advice from trained health professionals, including local, state and national departments of health.

That’s a bad idea, not because school officials and fair boards don’t have our health as a top priority. They do. But fair boards and school boards and school superintendents are not trained health professionals.

It’s also a bad idea because local community feedback is so strong, so quick, so heated and so very personal.

As a newspaper editor. I realize if I’m doing things right, anything I write is going to anger someone. Rarely does anything make everyone happy.

I don’t like that fact of life, but I’ve accepted it. It comes with the job.

But I’ve also stopped paying a lot of attention to social media.

At this time in life, school leaders can’t ignore social media. And they have to answer the phone.

School administrators — from superintendents to principals to teachers — are on the receiving end of a lot of anger. They have become the faces of COVID-19 decisions.

That anger is expressed in phone calls and on social media. Lawsuits have been threatened.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Now, it appears DeWine is also going to pass the buck on high school football.

Once again, local entities are going to have to make the final call.

They’ll get the glory. And they’ll get the grief.

Will we play?

Of course we will play. If DeWine allows local school districts to make the call. We will be playing football in two weeks.

Is that the right decision?

I don’t know.

Time will tell.

But I do know there is a lot of local pressure to play football. And that peer pressure will win out.

I’m glad I’m not the one making the hard calls.

But I’m not being paid to be Ohio’s leader.

Mike DeWine is.

He was elected to lead.

So lead. Take ownership.

Quit passing the buck.

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Russ Kent

Galion Inquirer

Email Russ Kent at rkent@aimmediamidwest.com

Email Russ Kent at rkent@aimmediamidwest.com