No rubber stamp

In filling two key vacancies, City Council members must answer to citizens, not party and union bosses


Toledo City Council members, as soon as Tuesday, will fill two critical vacancies on the legislative body. Council members must make their choices in the interest of all of their constituents, rather than respond to the dictates of political and union bosses. If they don’t, their allegiances will be clear to voters in an election year.

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Council members must elect a new president to succeed Paula Hicks-Hudson, who became mayor after the death last month of D. Michael Collins. Insiders say that council incumbent Steven Steel is seeking support among his colleagues for the position, and has the backing of local private-sector unions that traditionally have exercised broad political influence on the council.

Councilman Steel also is chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party; that position, which by definition is highly partisan, is incompatible with the presidency of the formally nonpartisan council. At the very least, if Mr. Steel wants to head the council, he should first give up his party office. If he refuses, that alone would give council members cause to look elsewhere for their next president.

A better choice might be to keep Councilman Jack Ford, who now serves as council president pro tem, in the post on a more-permanent basis. Mr. Ford, a former city mayor, displays a degree of political independence that Mr. Steel cannot similarly claim. At the same time, though, given the succession issues that city government has just confronted, Mr. Ford’s health problems in recent years offer a reason for concern.

Council members also must fill the vacancy in District 4 created when Ms. Hicks-Hudson became mayor. District voters will choose Ms. Hicks-Hudson’s successor at a special election in May. But whoever gets the council appointment in the meantime will have the advantage of incumbency in that special vote as well as the regular city primary and general elections later this year, all of which are likely to attract small turnouts.

The county Democratic Party and its organized-labor allies are leaning on council members to appoint Yvonne Harper, the party’s executive director. But a review by The Blade of Ms. Harper’s record suggests that here too, council members can find better candidates.

Over the weekend, The Blade reported that Ms. Harper’s $4,541 bill for back state income taxes has been the subject of a state collection lawsuit; she declined to discuss the litigation with a reporter. As a bailiff for more than two decades in Toledo Municipal Court, the newspaper reported, Ms. Harper received a negative job evaluation in 2011 that said she dealt poorly with the public.

She retired from the court a year later, under a secret settlement that required her to drop her previously dismissed complaints of harassment by her supervisors. The review of her personnel file cited other examples of alleged misconduct on the job; Ms. Harper said she would not talk about such “personal” matters with The Blade.

Such a record suggests that the other eight candidates who have applied for the District 4 appointment deserve at least as much consideration as Ms. Harper. But if a majority of council members instead wield a special-interest rubber stamp in filling that vacancy and the council presidency, voters will want to show their appreciation the next time these alleged representatives appear on the ballot.