Newsmakers 2010: Promises to keep: Toledo Mayor Mike BellWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In medieval times, people prayed for a knight in shining armor to come to their rescue. In 2010, many Toledo-area residents believed a charismatic former fire chief, known for his Harley, was Toledo’s salvation.
Instead of slaying dragons or rescuing maidens, Mike Bell had a harder task — attempting to manage the city while trying to appease businesses and residents who did want not services cut or taxes increased.
Rather than knights of the Round Table, Bell had 12 City Council members to face. His promise early on to be more proactive in attending Toledo City Council meetings is one that he has kept; he has attended more of the meetings and committee meetings than any mayor in recent history.
Bell’s once hopeful tone of working with Council as a team has turned to expressions of frustration. Accusations that his administration is not transparent when it comes to communication have come from some in the community and by more than one member of Council.
A Dec. 27 media release stated that due to the inaction of Council, the mayor was seeking to re-open contract negotiations with Toledo’s collective bargaining units to fill a potential $3.2 million budget hole; the release took Council members by surprise.
The budget in 2010 was rife with discussion related to exigent circumstances. In the end, with the exception of one union that is still fighting the city, some unions made minor concessions; one came away with only temporary concessions.
Trash collection is a hotly debated issue in Toledo. The automation process that Bell did not support — but inherited — created changes in the trash fee and the elimination of weekly bulk pickup. Now the Bell administration is proposing completely removing Toledo from the business of collecting trash and turning it over to Lucas County.
During 2010, the former Finkbeiner administration was blamed for many of the city’s woes. The most recent instance related to the four-year scheduling of utility rates. The Bell administration stated the reason for the large increase was failure of the past administration to generate the amount of revenue needed to repair and maintain water services, sanitary sewer and storm water systems.
Prior to taking office, Bell said he would accomplish three goals in the first 30 days of his administration: hire a Business Advocate, initiate a plan to consolidate all city departments responsible for permits, inspections, business incentives into a single location; and to create an electronic business center.
A year later, one of those goals has been met in full, as Bell hired Dean Monske for the position of Deputy Mayor for External Relations.
On Dec. 20, Jennifer Sorgenfrei, public information officer, said via e-mail that Bell was still working on the consolidation of city departments. She said Toledo had held discussions with Lucas County on joint consolidation efforts and that recent legislation approved by Council to separate the Division of Building Inspection/Code Enforcement from the Department of Neighborhoods would, “allow the department to better interface with sister departments like the Plan Commission and Economic Development to ensure more streamlined service.”
Sorgenfrei said the electronic business center “remains something to which the Mayor is committed,” but the city’s computer system is not currently capable of providing electronic permitting.
Mayor Bell said, “We are currently on track to end the fiscal year with a balanced budget — something that has not been accomplished in many years. It seems like it should be common sense not to spend more money than you have, but in practice it’s something that the City has failed to do for several years running.
“We have lived within our budget for 2010 and have not laid off police officers or firefighters; the parks and cemeteries are maintained; trees are trimmed in the spring; parks and cemeteries maintained throughout the summer; leaves collected in the fall and streets plowed and salted after it snows in the winter; we’ve demolished 350 blighted houses this year and we still had a street resurfacing program.
“With good financial management we can provide the basic services that people want. That’s not to say the decisions we face now are easy or popular, because many of them aren’t, but they are the decisions we need to make to get Toledo back on track.”
Will Bell receive more huzzahs than hisses from the populace in 2011? We’ll learn that during the next 365 days — for 2010, the mayor’s armor is a little worn, but not yet tarnished.