In his "State of the City" speech, Mayor Jack Ford showed that whatever he might lack in charisma is more than offset by the scope of his personal vision for the future of Toledo and Lucas County.
We were particularly struck by his bold call for a move toward metropolitan government. Consolidation of city and county government, which has proceeded successfully in such medium-sized U.S. cities as Indianapolis, Louisville, Jacksonville, and Nashville, presents a number of opportunities to streamline and improve public services.
Judging from initial reaction to Mayor Ford's proposal, officials of smaller cities and villages in Lucas County may not be eager to proceed with consolidation. But they should forget the battles and jealousies of other eras. The concept merits a thorough hearing and even a feasibility study.
"Nothing is more important to the future of northwest Ohio than a metropolitan approach to government," the mayor declared during his speech at the Valentine Theatre. "Our goals should be to reduce costs, duplication, fragmentation, and competition."
In a sign that he intends to pay more than lip service to the idea, the mayor has called a meeting of area leaders this week to discuss what can be done.
City-county consolidation - called uni-gov in Indianapolis, where it was established in 1970 - has been touted as a way to not only consolidate government services to save money, but as a vehicle to promote greater economic development.
Considering the disjointed attempts at development by Toledo, Lucas County, and the Regional Growth Partnership in recent years, some sense of unity would be a vast improvement.
Growth was a major selling point in Louisville, where city-county consolidation was approved by voters in 2000. Neil R. Peirce, a noted expert on local government, said the basic argument there went like this: "Merger will make us money. We'll vault from 65th largest U.S. city to 23rd. We'll be on the radar screen of major metropolises. We'll attract more jobs. Our young people won't have to go elsewhere for economic opportunity."
Indeed, Toledo by itself ranks as the 57th largest city in population, according to 2002 Census Bureau estimates, but if the rest of Lucas County were included it would jump to about 36th. Size-wise, incorporating the entire county would expand an already sprawling city of 84 square miles into a huge municipality encompassing more than 343 square miles. In that respect, bigger might not necessarily be better.
In fact, there is more than one way to achieve metropolitan government. While the Indianapolis model provided a total merger of city and county governments, Louisville preferred to tweak its approach, merging most county functions with the city but allowing some smaller jurisdictions to remain in place.
Whatever form uni-gov takes, Mr. Ford is to be commended for starting the public dialog. Other parts of the country that have changed to a metropolitan government are beating us up economically.
A truly metropolitan government may be the best way to bury the past and secure a strong future. Let's study the notion and find out how.