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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 7/12/2012

Walk the walk

Mike Bell was elected mayor of Toledo on a platform that included his pledge to run an open, transparent, inclusive, and accountable administration. After nearly three years in office, it's past time for the mayor to keep that promise.

The Blade is suing the city over its refusal to let the newspaper -- and, more important, our readers -- see the police department's map of gang territories and boundaries in Toledo. The map clearly is a public record covered by, and subject to disclosure under, Ohio law.

The data the map includes are just as clearly of public interest to Toledoans who are concerned about their city's recent epidemic of violent crime, much of it committed by young people in gangs. Knowing the neighborhoods in which gangs are most active will help citizens understand the extent and locations of the problem, and assess how well city and police officials are allocating and using taxpayer-supported resources to deal with gang operations.

Click here to read more Blade editorials.

Police and city officials claim the map is a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record" exempt from the state open-records law. Its disclosure, they argue, would reveal confidential investigative techniques, undermine active investigations, and alert gang members that they are under surveillance.

This argument is at best baseless, and at worst a ruse. The map itself is not an investigative technique, nor does it reflect such techniques as wiretaps, use of informants, or placement of undercover officers. The Blade has made clear to police it does not want such information.

Rather, the map graphically represents general conclusions police have reached about patterns of gang activity in Toledo. The notion that gang members will see the map and learn for the first time that police are watching them would be laughable if it weren't such a troubling reflection on the department's naivete.

Whatever Mayor Bell or Police Chief Derrick Diggs may believe The Blade's motivation to be in seeking access to the gang map is irrelevant to their duty to follow the law. Their resistance may cause Toledoans to engage in their own speculation about what the city wants to hide from its residents, and why.

This is hardly the only expression of the mayor's penchant for secrecy. The Bell administration has consistently denied Toledoans information they deserved to have about the development of the Marina District and the sources of foreign investment in the project. Mr. Bell sought to suppress disclosure of his itinerary during his first official visit to China.

If the mayor seeks re-election next year, the gap between his talking the talk and walking the walk on accountability to Toledoans will be a legitimate and important campaign issue. It would be far better for Mr. Bell's political fortunes -- and the welfare of the city he professes to love -- if he resolved now to use this opportunity to level with his constituents rather than distance himself from them.

The Blade seeks access to the gang map because it wants to fulfill its responsibility to report to the people of Toledo. Mayor Bell has a similar responsibility. Does he plan to meet it, and to obey the law?



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