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Published: 11/17/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Transparency, ex-mayors, and old, new blood

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins held his first transition team meeting Saturday at the Maritime Academy of Toledo. It was notable for two things: Two ex-mayors were included and the meeting was open to the press.

Both were unprecedented moves, and both were smart moves.

Some people say that reaching out to former Mayors Carty Finkbeiner and Jack Ford was a mistake —– they say that these are lions among gazelles and that there will be some devouring. And Mr. Collins told me he has gotten static on including the two formers. But I give both men more credit than that. Both are public servants who understand their role here and understand their own points on the wheel of life.

I have to give Mr. Collins props. He said to me: “Who wouldn't want access to that many years of experience?” Moreover, Mr. Collins, and no one else, will be the dominant force and the person to whom all eyes move in this transition process. Remember when people said President Obama should not appoint Hillary Clinton secretary of state because the Clintons would overshadow the new president? That didn't happen, did it? The office exerts its authority.

I think Mr Collins deserves credit also for his self-confidence and largeness of spirit. There is no one in the community he is not reaching out to at this point.

Moreover, with this meeting, Mr. Collins was practicing transparency early, and in a radical way. That's a genuinely big deal.

I do think it will be hard, from a practical point of view, to set up an administration in total sunlight. But the more sunlight the better.

I hear people saying: Same old faces — the veterans of municipal government. The new team is the old team.

Well, I don't think Mr. Collins has much choice. He needs competence and knowledge. His plan is to break in a new generation as, in effect, high-level management interns — an apprentice senior management system. I think this can work. Recruiting will be the trick. But I am not disturbed that there are Finkbeiner people on the transition team or, potentially, in the new administration. Who else would Mr. Collins turn to? Bell people? The upper levels of the Bell Administration doubled as a campaign team.

I hope, and believe, there will be surprises and creative choices in Mr. Collins' appointments. But new faces cannot make up the whole team. There aren't enough out there and new faces, by definition, don't know the ropes.

Finally, some people say there are too many people from the labor movement close to Mr. Collins and his transition team. I think Mr. Collins should reach out to the business community, especially the small business community. But labor had a lot to do with electing him and he comes from their ranks — he bleeds union. So I don't find this shocking. Mike Collins it pretty clear about who he is. I saw no surprises Saturday and expect few in the future.

But I think he must, and will, make a special effort with business and African Americans.

The transition team is roughly 50 people. That's a big team. And this was a getting to know you session. But many folks started talking issues and concerns right way. There is a pent up need to talk because a lot of people didn't feel listened to during the past four years.

So: Outreach, experience, and dialogue. The tone of Saturday's meeting was pragmatic, respectful, inclusive, modest, and refreshingly professional.

So far, so good.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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