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Published: Friday, 11/29/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

COMMENTARY

Mr. Collins goes to Harvard

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Michael Collins is not letting the grass grow beneath his feet. He is preparing to become mayor of Toledo with all deliberate speed. That’s how he rolls.

In the last few days, he has formed a transition team. He has reached out to business leaders. He has met with a man who was a big city mayor, governor of Ohio, and a U.S. senator.

And now Mr. Collins is headed to Harvard for a short course in how to be a mayor. Harvard runs similar courses for new members of Congress.

The meeting with business leaders was supposed to be for five to 10 people. Roughly 60 showed up at the Toledo Club. (It didn’t hurt that food and drinks were free).

But the conversation turned out to be a long one. Mr. Collins’ overall message was simple and smart: “I need your help.”

The wise man Mr. Collins consulted was George Voinovich. In Cleveland they still remember that he was mayor — a very good and popular one.

Being a mayor is a much harder job than being a senator. Yet it was Mr. Voinovich’s favorite job.

What is Mr. Collins learning so far? Well, it would be good to have a staff immediately. The decisions are already upon him. Probably the most important decision he will make in his four-year term is a decision he must make before he takes office: the choice of chief of staff.

The mayor is the chief executive officer of city government. But the chief of staff is the de facto chief operating officer. His job: To help the mayor see the big picture. For, as former Mayor Jack Ford told me: It’s hard to see the forest when you are the biggest tree in it.

Mr. Collins knows, and he heard from Mr. Voinovich, that he will have to delegate and make alliances.

His chief of staff will have to have strength — both within and without. He must be the person who can stand up to the mayor and the person who will stand up for him.

Mr. Collins needs someone who is mentally and politically tough in this role. And there is no obvious candidate.

Mr. Collins needs to pick the person he feels is best for the job and not worry about whether someone will say he is too old, too young, too anti-union, pro-union, or too pro-Carty.

Pick the best person. Period.

With all of the pending appointments, the standard should be: Will this person improve the performance of the department in question? Nothing else matters.

The other sticky wicket is the chief of police.

Any mayor has a right to install his own person in that job. Just as a president gets to pick his own secretary of defense.

Mr. Collins will likely replace Chief Derrick Diggs. But it is also important that Mr. Diggs be treated with dignity and gratitude for his service.

Mike Collins is a deliberate fellow. A lawyer who worked with him when Mr. Collins was a policeman says he never saw a law enforcement professional better prepared.

Members of City Council tell the same story. No one will out-prep this guy.

In football, music, parenting, and government, preparation pays. Mr. Collins is preparing to take power in his usual deliberate way.

Seeking out Mr. Voinovich, meeting with business leaders, and going to Harvard are three good moves.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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