D. Michael Collins takes office today as mayor of Toledo in an atmosphere far less fraught than the one that confronted his predecessor, Mike Bell, four years ago. Mr. Collins does not have an urgent fiscal crisis to resolve, as Mr. Bell did at his inauguration.
But the new mayor faces plenty of other challenges over the next four years, and how he addresses them will largely define the near-term future of this city. All residents of Toledo — and the region — have a stake in his success. He deserves their support as he assumes his new job.
Most immediately, Mayor Collins must reconcile his campaign promises — more police officers, a city income tax rate cut, lower water bills for elderly homeowners — with budget realities in a city that is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. Municipal unions, especially those representing police officers and firefighters, that supported Mr. Collins’ candidacy are sure to seek a prompt return on their investment in the form of pay raises and other benefits.
The mayor, a former president of the police officers’ union, now will sit on the other side of the bargaining table. If he is to represent taxpayers’ interests adequately, he will have to show that he knows how to say no to his allies.
Mr. Collins has promised a sharp departure from Mr. Bell’s greatest failing as mayor: a penchant for excessive and counterproductive secrecy, on issues ranging from gang activity to foreign investment in the city. Keeping that pledge will be tough, because bureaucracies tend to shun transparency by nature. But it is one of the most important things the new mayor can do to build public confidence in him and his administration.
Mayor Collins also can learn from the more-positive aspects of his predecessor’s tenure. Mr. Bell was not wrong to pursue global investment, or to travel abroad in search of it, despite the clumsy way he too often went about it.
The campaign debate over such investment was marred by some supporters’ expressions of nativism and xenophobia that Mayor Collins now must work to overcome. He is right to be skeptical of such moribund foreign-owned projects as the Marina District. But he must apply similar scrutiny to dubious domestic-investment schemes, such as the Treece family’s proposal to take over operations at city-owned Toledo Express Airport.
It was gratifying that when Mr. Collins met with President Obama at the White House last month, two of the three priorities he listed for his city were environmental concerns: the need to clean up toxic algae in western Lake Erie, and preparing “brownfield” industrial sites for redevelopment. Such green issues need to remain at the forefront of his administration’s agenda.
As a City Council member, Mr. Collins intervened helpfully in a troubling dispute over funding that pitted the Bell administration’s Department of Neighborhoods and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board against city homeless shelters. Now that he has installed needed new leadership in the Neighborhoods Department, Mayor Collins is in a good position to broker a compromise on this matter that will help many of Toledo’s most vulnerable residents. That could, and should, lead to greater support by city government of Toledo’s other effective nonprofit groups that are working to fight poverty.
Mr. Collins essentially forced the resignation of former police chief Derrick Diggs. Yet he and his new chief, William Moton, should preserve many of the innovations that Mr. Diggs emphasized in the police department, notably the application of “big data” and technology to crime prevention and a focus on community policing.
The new mayor has some fence-mending to do with Toledo’s African-American community over his assertion during his campaign that the police department does not engage in racial profiling — a statement he has since modified. That, of course, does not justify the sleazy, anonymous whispering campaign that falsely accused Mr. Collins of racism.
Mayor Collins would do well to maintain Mr. Bell’s emphasis on seeking regional approaches to issues and services that cross municipal boundaries. Above all, effective metropolitan public transportation needs a dedicated advocate in the mayor’s office. Although a political effort to dismantle the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority largely failed, the us-against-them mind-set that fueled it remains to be surmounted.
Mr. Collins’ long service on City Council suggests that relations between the mayor’s office and council will improve. The new mayor shows a proper appreciation for the contributions that young people and local artists can make to improve the city’s appeal, especially downtown. These are all positive signs.
Mayor Collins’ biggest challenge may be to get this community to believe in itself — to overcome the reflexive negativism, apathy, and inertia that too often define citizens’ relations with their city and its government. If he can do that, he can achieve other vital goals as well.