The City of Toledo wants to go into the compost business.
Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat and Director of Public Services Ed Moore told City Council recently that while the city would have to spend $347,000 on a compost turner, it would save the $200,000 a year it now spends on landfill when it demolishes houses, as well as the $250,000 a year it pays a company to take leaves from the city.
The math is compelling, and from that point of view the move seems like a no-brainer. Moreover, anything that moves the city toward conservation and green practices is good.
Yet some council members are not convinced. The problem is one of confidence and perception.
No one is sure the city will be good at running this new enterprise. Mayor Mike Bell says generally — and correctly — that the city should be turning more of its functions over to specialists and contractors, precisely because city government is not a business. Meanwhile, the city would have to break an existing contract to become its own composter.
Second, several council members say they have doubts about giving more power and responsibility to an administration that they claim, fairly or not, is often arrogant and high-handed. The composting decision seems to be another instance of ad hoc policy making by the Bell administration.
It can be hard to tell why the mayor and his managers do what they do. Nobody seems to see their decisions coming, and there seems to be no overall policy or principle that guides decision-making.
Mayor Bell and his aides may be right about the economics of composting. But they need to build bridges, confidence, and trust if they want this plan, or the next one, to fly.