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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

Keep council as is

LINDSAY Webb is miffed at the way Mayor Carty Finkbeiner runs roughshod over or ignores City Council, and she wants to restructure council in an effort to, in her words, "restore a balance of power" between the governing bodies.

Ms. Webb, an inexperienced first-term council member, is right that the mayor is often incorrigible, but we believe that's a problem to be solved by voters later this year. As for Ms. Webb, she would be more productive getting on with the task of representing the interests of the voters in District 6.

The latest incident that has some on council crying foul involved the 2008 and 2009 city budgets, both of which have gaping deficit holes. It seems that Carty's team worked on filling those holes without bringing council into the loop. And then Carty compounded the problem by unveiling his revised budgets at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown instead of in council chambers.

Ms. Webb's response was to propose reducing the number of seats on council, based on recommendations last year by the Toledo Charter Review Committee, and to call for an elected city attorney who would be independent of the mayor.

The charter committee suggested three options: making council an all-district body by eliminating the six at-large seats; keeping the six district seats and reducing to three the number of at-large seats, or keeping the six district seats and creating three super-district seats, each encompassing two districts.

But blaming council's ineffectiveness on its size merely distracts from the real problem: years of infighting between factions of the dominant Democratic Party and a contentious relationship with a pugnacious mayor.

Reducing the size of council to nine, eight, or six members will improve neither representation for Toledo residents nor council's ability to effectively counter Mayor Finkbeiner's high-handedness in dealing with it.

In short, council's problems with the mayor are best left for voters to sort out at the polls in November.

As it stands, Mr. Finkbeiner still isn't saying whether he will run for a fourth term. According to his most recent filing with the Lucas County Board of Elections, his campaign fund is almost empty, leading to speculation that the mayor isn't running. But who knows? With the filing deadline nearly five months off, there's plenty of time.

When things aren't going well, it's natural for folks to want to deep-six their elected officials and, sometimes, even the whole form of government. Toledo's 1914 charter provided for an executive mayor and council but within a few years there was a movement afoot to ditch that system. What couldn't be accomplished in 1928, however, the Great Depression managed, and in 1934 voters decided to replace the strong mayor with a city manager.

By the 1980s, in response to new economic troubles, people were again floating the idea of a strong mayor, and in 1992 The Blade led the charge. At that time, we also supported the creation of council districts to ensure minority representation. But we opposed district representatives having a majority on council, fearing that councilmen with narrow interests would get caught up in log-rolling, cutting deals, and trading favors at the expense of what was good for the city as a whole.

Nothing has happened in the last 16 years to change that opinion on either score. A strong mayor is still necessary to provide leadership and vision, and council still benefits from a balance in district and city-wide representation.

The means to create the balance Ms. Webb says is needed between mayor and council already exists - if council can set aside its internal wrangling long enough to develop a strong consensus on issues.



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