Collins mucks aroundWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The two-and-a-half-day water shut-off caused by toxins released by Lake Erie algae blooms left our community with a need to work together but the impulse to point a few fingers.
Many of those accusatory fingers are aimed in the direction of Ed Moore, director of Toledo’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU). But while a closer examination of Moore’s role should result in a retraction of most of those prodding index fingers, Toledoans invested in accountable government should reserve an extended middle finger for his boss, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.
Moore has worked for the City of Toledo for about 22 years; his survival across changing administrations demonstrates an inclination to place the public over politics. Under Mayor Mike Bell, Moore served as the director of public service; when Collins took office, Moore became the commissioner of engineering services. When Robin Whitney left the city’s employ to work for ProMedica, Moore agreed to what he undoubtedly knew was the thankless job of DPU director.
Public Utilities is a difficult division. It encompasses all services related to water — sewer, treatment, distribution, repairs, billing and engineering services. Many believe, and probably rightfully so, that this division should be split, as its operation is time-consuming and leaves little room for error.
Despite the challenges, Moore has accomplished something previous directors have not been able to do: He began to build a relationship with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Before you point a finger, be clear that the recent media attention on the Ohio EPA’s possible takeover of the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant was not based on communications making such threats to the city; it was based on internal memos by staff that had issues with Toledo. The upper levels of administration at the Ohio EPA were reportedly working with Moore and insiders maintain progress was — and is — being made.
Moore has said he believes there is overstaffing in some areas of DPU and has cut positions. He has also worked on combining Call City Hall call takers with Public Service customer service reps, which is efficient and the first step toward a 311 call center system. Moore has not been afraid to stand up to the unions or to hold firm under a barrage of unwelcome attention from Toledo City Council members who have personal issues with him because he will terminate people who don’t do their jobs — even, it is rumored, relatives of Council members.
During the water crisis, several insiders say Moore did not lose his cool under pressure, as some notable elected leaders did.
None of this is to suggest Moore is perfect. There are clearly ongoing issues at the DPU and specifically with the water treatment plant. Moore is captain of that ship, and any algae bloom icebergs it hits are his responsibility. How the next few months unfold will determine whether Moore’s good intentions will repair and stabilize a crucial situation, or whether he will need to be replaced by someone who can calm the waters — literally and figuratively.
So for now, retract the fingers of blame pointed at Moore and use that energy to return the one-finger salute Collins is showing you through his calculated diminishment of transparency at the water treatment plant and the favoritism he is showing The Blade.
Every television station and many other media outlets — including Toledo Free Press — are banging on the door to get cameras and reporters inside the water treatment plant. But through false starts and broken appointments, the Collins administration has locked everyone out — except The Blade, which has been the sole media outlet granted access to the plant since the water crisis.
This isn’t a Toledo Free Press issue or even just a media issue; it’s an alarming lack of true transparency for the nearly 500,000 people who depend on the city’s drinking water (“rate payers,” as Collins so coldly labeled you during the initial hours of the crisis).
For Collins to deny Toledo Free Press and every Toledo television station access to the water treatment plant while bending over backward to accommodate his pals on Superior Street is a blatant extended middle finger to the area’s “rate payers” — you. Do you trust a politician under fire who makes such an exclusive arrangement concerning such a public issue? Do you trust one media’s reporting, uncorroborated by any other source?
Remember this pre-election story?: After a particularly grueling afternoon of cleaning horse stables, young Mick Collins, the future mayor of Toledo, was greeted by his father, Michael. The older man, an Irish immigrant who braved the Atlantic Ocean to bring his family to America, praised the boy’s work and handed him a pop. Father and son sat down, the elder Irishman nursing a beer. Following a brief silence, the man turned to his son and offered him some blunt advice.
“Life is like a card game,” Michael told his son. “And you have one consistent card to play your whole life — the F*** You Card. Your successes in life are defined by when you don’t play that card.”
Mayor Finkbeiner — sorry, I mean Collins — is playing that card now, dropping it on all but his favorite media and, most importantly, you.
Demand transparency. Demand access.
Moore is not off the hook, but he stands in the shadow of a mayor’s extended middle finger, a bird that blocks access, transparency, accountability and fairness.
Algae blooms aren’t the only toxins infecting Toledo, and there’s not enough water in the Great Lakes to wash this bad taste out of rate payers’ mouths.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.