Toledo might be on the hook for repaying the federal government nearly $3 million for a grant that paid for the recall of 31 laid-off police officers. Mayor D. Michael Collins was aware of the possible expense, and should have earmarked the money during this year’s budget deliberations.
Instead, Mayor Collins is hoping President Obama will throw him a lifeline. While in Washington last week, the mayor hand-delivered to a White House aide a letter meant for President Obama, asking for his help in seeking relief from the debt. No one can blame him for trying, but it’s inappropriate for Mayor Collins to go hat-in-hand to the President for an expense that he had ample time to address.
The federal money in question stems from a 2009 Justice Department COPS Hiring Recovery Program grant. Toledo received $7.1 million that allowed former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to re-hire 31 police officers who were laid off because of budget cuts.
The grant required the city to maintain a minimum of 564 sworn officers for four years. Mayor Collins said that an audit found that the city did not comply with this edict. But Mayor Collins did not need an audit to tell him what he already knew. Last year, when Mayor Collins was a district councilman, he warned then-Mayor Mike Bell that the city would have to repay at least part of the grant.
As mayor, Mr. Collins has demonstrated a disturbing lack of accountability on budget issues. Too often, he’s blamed his predecessor for things going wrong in his administration. He’s been too quick to finger-point and blame Mr. Bell or others for monetary hiccups that he’s unable to explain.
Mayor Collins did not just arrive in Toledo with no knowledge of city government. He has been a longtime city employee, first as a police officer, and then as a councilman for four years before he was elected mayor. He is not a wide-eyed neophyte, even if he sometimes appears to covet that role.
In fact, Mayor Collins, rightly, said the city was never in compliance because the grant specified the city had to keep a minimum of 495 patrolmen — the lowest rank for police officers — not the number of all officers on the force. The number of patrolmen dropped below the required-level in 2010 because of retirements and not enough new hires.
Mayor Collins should not now look to President Obama to solve this problem. The mayor, who took office in January, did little to alter Mr. Bell’s 2014 spending plan. Now he must face the consequences of his inaction.
This possible grant repayment — a severe financial blow to city coffers — is yet another consequence of Mr. Collins’ failure to lead Toledo on a fiscally sound path. Instead of a thoughtfully laid-out course of action, Mayor Collins continues to skid here and U-turn there.
No doubt, it would help the city if President Obama did not demand that the city repay the grant dollars, but there are no assurances. Rules are rules, and Toledo’s elected officials and police leadership were aware the city was in noncompliance.
Mayor Collins can best serve his city by governing with more accountability and foresight.