Collins pledges continued development, job growthWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
From the polar vortex to the water crisis to a number of percolating economic development opportunities, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins spent most of his hourlong Dec. 9 State of the City address reflecting on his roller coaster ride of a first year in office.
Looking ahead to 2015, he vowed to create more jobs and secure a developer for the former Southwyck Mall site. He also announced plans to add cultural sensitivity to Toledo Police training and install 55 “You Will Do Better in Toledo” signs at city limits.
“We’ve been a government that’s been reactive instead of where I really wanted to be and that was to be more proactive in terms of giving us a different direction,” he told Toledo Free Press. “I’m hoping in 2015 we can take those dynamic steps to redefine Toledo.”
Punctuated by short video testimonials from community members and business leaders, Collins’ presentation highlighted successes such as redevelopment progress Downtown and along the Reynolds Road corridor; the introduction of innovative technology like the SeeClickFix app and an interactive crime map; and improvement of neighborhood safety and cleanliness through partnerships between police officers, city code enforcement officials and block watch groups.
Saying his administration likely faced more obstacles in a single year than any of its predecessors, Collins also addressed the year’s major challenges, including August’s do-not-drink water advisory caused by a toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie; record-breaking cold and snow; budget shortfalls that hampered infrastructure repairs; and the deaths of two Toledo firefighters.
“Jan. 26 was a day that produced holes in all of our hearts,” Collins said, referring to the North Toledo blaze that killed Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman. “May they rest in peace knowing that their heroism will never be forgotten.”
Calling public safety a subject “near and dear to my heart,” Collins, a former police officer, announced plans to add cultural sensitivity to police training.
Developed with the help of Latino community leader Baldemar Velasquez, the program will promote understanding of Latino culture as well as black, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cultures.
“While we may think we know and understand each other, there are cultural differences and we need to have that as a part of the training experience,” Collins said. “Differences don’t make polarity; differences make strength.”
In one of many digressions from prepared remarks, Collins addressed the national unrest following citizen deaths at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere.
“[Toledo Police] should not be stereotyped. They should not be looked upon as oppressors in a community,” Collins said. “I have full confidence … they are committed to having your back.”
Collins said the city and its partners created 444 jobs and retained 548 jobs in 2014 and vowed to increase those numbers by at least 20 percent in 2015. He pledged to work hard to keep Jeep Wrangler production in Toledo.
“In 2015 we shall continue our efforts to demonstrate it matters where you make it,” Collins said. “Wrangler is critical to both Toledo and Fiat Chrysler. We will advance our discussions with [CEO] Mr. [Sergio] Marchionne and fortify Toledo’s commitment to achieve this goal and advance his company’s position in the world market.”
Development was a major topic, particularly ProMedica’s move Downtown, which Collins called a domino effect that will “change the face of Toledo” over the next three to five years.
He also praised the Mud Hens’ vision for the Hensville development, the Reynolds Road Clarion Hotel demolition and the East Toledo smokestack implosions as steps moving the city forward.
Collins said he was proud of the work accomplished by 10 neighborhood-focused “T-Town” cleanup events, which filled 733 potholes, swept 97 streets and mowed 301 lots.
City workers will install “You Will Do Better in Toledo” signs this month, replacing the “Rocket Country” signs at city limits. The cost is less than $10,000, said City Public Information Officer Stacy Weber. The slogan marked its 100th anniversary last December.
“[At that time] people came to Toledo because they knew opportunities existed here that were not opportunities they would find in other areas,” Collins said. “I want to return that same image to Toledo.”
Councilwoman Sandy Spang and Councilman Rob Ludeman were there.
“It’s really important to take a moment and review the year, but I also think it’s important to cast vision for the future,” Spang said.
Ludeman said he thought Collins should have stayed more on point.
“There was a lot of filler and side stories that just didn’t need to be part of the speech,” Ludeman said. “It was more of a history lesson than a state of the city speech.”
Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said she came to show her willingness to work with the city.
“[Collins] did a really good job trying to highlight interested leaders who want to improve neighborhoods as well as business leaders who want to help,” Skeldon Wozniak said afterward.
Although fellow commissioners Carol Contrada and Pete Gerken were not able to be there, all three said they were disappointed Collins didn’t mention the county as a partner.
“I find that unfortunate,” Gerken said. “From the county’s perspective, the state of the city is critical to the state of the county and vice versa.”