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Published: Monday, 12/16/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

COMMENTARY

Collins’ picks: It’s tougher than it looks

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Mayor-elect Mike Collins was on his way back from Washington, D.C. Saturday. Mr. Collins and his wife, Sandy Drabik, had to make their way through the mess we all faced.

A neighbor of the Collins’ told me he met the mayor shoveling his walk and driveway. “It must be busy for you these days,” said the neighbor. “It’s not busy, answered Collins, it’s crazy.”

A few weeks ago, Mr. Collins was a district councilman and an underdog candidate for mayor. Some laughed at his chances. Now he travels to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he learns of new ideas and best practices for new mayors.

And then to Washington, where, with several other mayors, mostly from much bigger cities, he met with President Obama, who talked with him, in detail, about Toledo and the problems midsize cities face.

Mr. Collins was sitting next to the president when an aide brought him a note about last week’s horrifying high school shooting in Colorado. Yet another one. And Mr. Collins could see how it hit him. Mr. Collins came away with a new appreciation of Mr. Obama, in part because of the concern and command he exhibited at that meeting. But also, perhaps, because of that moment when the aide passed the note. You have to see things like that to recognize how hard the job is.

We think we know what a president’s task is. We think we can easily evaluate the job he is doing. It’s obvious enough, right?

Not really. It takes hindsight and insight to know.

It’s the same with a mayor.

It turns out that being a mayor is tough and complicated. Not nearly as easy as it looks. And way harder than being a senator.

What did Mario Cuomo say? You politic in poetry but govern in prose. For a mayor the prose is very down to earth: How do we do a better job answering phone calls from citizens or fixing street lights? And who in Toledo actually knows something about these things?

Mr. Collins revealed his management team Monday. Some will say, “Ho-hum, looks like a bunch of re-treads.” In fact, this will likely be the dominant narrative.

What I see is that Collins must deal in prose right now. He needs people who actually know, not people who opine.

I see, also, a student of government. Mr. Collins was fired up by the Boston and Washington trips — stimulated and inspired.

I see several things I like in these appointments: I like that there will be someone to bring new media to government — the brilliant young Steve Leggett, who managed the Collins campaign.

I like that every director is paired with an apprentice, including the chief of staff. Yes, the chief is a retread, but he is staying for only a year. His apprentice is 33.

These pairings of master and apprentice are an innovative idea. Maybe even brave.

I like the organizational simplifications and consolidations.

I really like the idea of promoting a police lieutenant through the ranks. I am told it has never happened in Toledo before, and it may be unprecedented in American cities.

It seems to me that there are three bottom line considerations here: Are the people Mr. Collins picked able? Can they really teach and prepare their apprentices? And, governing is harder than it looks.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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