An East Toledo "town hall" meeting today held by three city councilmen quickly grew heated, with residents lamenting what they considered city leaders' general lack of concern for East Toledo and their perceptions of city council's unresponsiveness.
Council President Joe McNamara co-hosted the event with councilmen Mike Craig and Shaun Enright at Michael's Cafe on Main Street. The trio billed the event both as a chance to hear citizen concerns, and a moment to highlight the "historic number" of East Toledoans now on council: Mr. Craig and Mr. Enright live in East Toledo, and Mr. McNamara grew up there.
Attended by dozens of East Toledo residents, the event turned mostly to complaints, with the majority directed at Mr. Craig, who represents a council district that includes East Toledo and part of South Toledo. Dialogue was combative at times, with residents questioning why it seems East Toledo streets aren't repaved, vacant houses aren't demolished, crime appears on the rise, and nuisances are left unchecked.
Residents said they felt resources are being diverted from their part of the city.
"Why don't you people stop putting everything over on the west end?" asked Dawn Cornett.
Several suggested Mr. Craig has ignored constituents' complaints, with phone calls and emails going unanswered, and said he only asks for their concerns during election years.
Mr. Craig strongly defended himself, saying responds to as many complaints as possible, but tracking every citizen concern he forwards to city workers is nearly impossible. He also said that it's ultimately up to city workers under Mayor Mike Bell to do the work.
"I want things to get done in East Toledo," he said.
Mr. McNamara came to his colleague's defense on several occasions, rejecting arguments that Mr. Craig isn't responsive to constituents.
"I can promise you that Mike is on the phone all the time," he said.
Mr. McNamara, who is considering a challenge this year against Mayor Bell, at times diverted blame toward the Bell administration for delays in progress on neighborhood issues, saying that council can only do so much to get city administrators to respond to complaints. He said Toledo needs more police, and City Hall's focus should be on investment projects that create local jobs.
Questioned several times was why the Marina District has remained fallow ground since its 2011 purchase by Chinese investors, with complaints' tone ranging from simple frustration with the lack of development to jingoistic attacks on the buyers. Speakers also protested the recent construction of Toledo's new indoor arena downtown instead of in East Toledo, and inadequate funding of east side parks and pools.
Mr. Enright was less vocal at the meeting than his colleagues, in part likely because he has only been seated for a matter of weeks. Some speakers, though, praised him for what they felt was his responsiveness to their calls.
Some residents criticized Mr. Craig's and Mr. McNamara's preference for former Mayor Jack Ford during debate preceding Mr. Enright's appointment earlier this month to an open council seat.
Speakers objected to lingering debate about whether Mr. Enright's past, including brushes with the law when he was younger, made him unqualified for council. His criminal history became an issue two years ago when Mr. Enright unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Craig for the District 3 seat.
"So what if he made a few mistakes," Sam Tarsha said. "Who else here is without sin?"
Mr. Craig and Mr. McNamara said that Mr. Enright is now on the council and they are willing to work with him. today's event was, in a way, a show of unity for the trio.
Not everyone at the meeting shared the most vocal speakers' outrage. Some pointed out that issues like street paving and vacant-house demolitions predate the three current councilmen's terms in office, and others said that Mr. Craig has reached out to them when they called.
But the general sense in the room was that East Toledo has been ignored, and they wanted someone to do something about it.
"I'm tired of East Toledo people being seen as low-lives and not productive," Sheila Wisniewski said.