Unfinished businessWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was having lunch the other day with a former Toledo mayor (four guesses who) and a former high-level Carty Finkbeiner administration official (innumerable guesses who), and the conversation turned to the current Toledo City Council.
Former mayor: “I’ve never seen a worse city council.”
Former Finkbeiner administrator: “They’ve got Tom Waniewski, but after him the talent level drops like a rock.”
While Finkbeiner has been getting all of the bad press when it comes to Toledo’s growing budget crisis, Toledo City Council hasn’t been helping. City council’s consistent defeat of the mayor’s proposals doesn’t qualify as getting something done. It’s getting something not done. There are lots of debate and posturing, but very little happening to avert the city’s looming financial catastrophe. Watch what city council does, or doesn’t do, and you realize there’s a whole lotta nothin’ goin’ on.
Where are the ideas coming out of city council?
Why does city council meet only every other week?
Where is the sense of urgency among our elected officials?
What budget crisis?
Toledo’s city council members and the mayor’s office seem to grasp onto the municipal causes célèbres just so long as they’re in the spotlight, then all is forgotten, including the savings to us taxpayers. It’s as though council and the mayor’s office have a bad case of attention deficit disorder. And they’re hoping we’ll forget, too.
Here are some reminders. You might remember when these were daily headlines before they disappeared into a dust pile of disinterest:
1. Automated trash pickup. We know the City of Toledo is going to automated pickup. We know that an arbitrator decided that going with Allied Waste will save us more than $3 million a year. But four weeks after the arbitrator’s ruling, nary a peep about an ordinance to approve a contract with the private waste-hauling company. I guess city council just doesn’t mind continuing to waste $58,000 of our money every week. There’s one word for this: Inexcusable.
2. Selling city property. Remember back in 2007 when the Finkbeiner administration announced it was going to sell millions of dollars’ worth of Toledo’s real estate holdings? I thought that was one of the best ideas to come out of the 22nd floor in a long time – raise money and get the city out of the landlord business. The city was holding a garage sale. The big prize was The Docks in International Park. Both Tom Cousino, owner of Navy Bistro and Tango’s restaurants, and Main Street Ventures, owner of The Real Seafood Company, made bids of upwards of $3 million. Both had their financing in place. The city dickered; the deals withered; the real estate market soured, and the money-making idea was forgotten.
3. Intermodal. Remember when developing an “Intermodal Hub” was the rush-rush panacea for all of Toledo’s economic ills? I went to a meeting of the group that’s been working on developing an intermodal hub for 10 years. A lot of people there, but not a soul representing the City of Toledo. I guess the City of Toledo has lost interest.
4. Police. And then there’s the contract negotiations with the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association. This one hasn’t been forgotten, but city council sure is letting this one drag out. The mayor tried to declare exigent circumstances under which he could impose pay cuts to keep officers on the streets, while negotiations continued. City council said no, so 75 cops were laid off. And that’s just the beginning.
Toledo is not alone in facing a huge budget deficit. Cities across the country are against the financial ropes. But what we have in Toledo is also an attention deficit, a courage deficit and by extension, a leadership deficit. Leadership requires making tough, sometimes unpopular choices.
If our city council members can’t or won’t make choices to keep our city out of bankruptcy, we’ll make ours. And thankfully, this is an election year.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.