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Published: Friday, 12/20/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

COMMENTARY

Collins wants to go back to strong mayor

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Mayor-elect Mike Collins has hit a home run with with his appointment of William Moton as police chief, but how is he doing otherwise? I had a long talk with Mr. Collins at One Government Center this week, and three things emerge as characteristic of the Collins approach.

First, Mr. Collins is a student of public administration. That means as mayor he will constantly be asking what should Toledo city government be doing more or less of and how can it better deliver services? He will constantly be searching for “best practices”: What are other cities of our size doing? What has worked there? He has established relationships with other mayors through his trips to Harvard and the White House and has urged incoming staff to be in contact with their counterparts in other cities.

The standard criticism of Mr. Collins is that he gets bogged down in minutiae. “He likes the weeds,” said a local politician friendly to him. But not everyone is friendly. Some predict Mr. Collins will fail because they want him to. As we learned with President Obama in 2009, sometimes there is no honeymoon.

Those rooting for a Collins failure say he is a “micro-manager” who will not be able to go from gadfly to CEO. But he knows he is a detail guy, and he says that will not be good enough anymore. “I will have to change,” he has told me. Self-knowledge and willingness to change. Good signs.

Moreover, an orientation toward detail is not all bad. What Mr. Collins told me this week is that we have to get back to the strong mayor form of government. He said delegating the day-to-day management of the city to a deputy mayor or chief of staff is really a hybrid — half strong mayor and half city manager. Mr. Collins says this hybrid is not what the community wants, and it does not work.

Hence Mr. Collins, in his organizational planning, has actually taken duties from the chief of staff and will have more people reporting directly to the mayor. Mr. Collins put it this way: When things go right, department heads will get credit. When things go wrong, the mayor will face the music alone.

Mayor Mike Bell did many many things well. But it is fair to say city government could benefit from a more hands-on approach. Carty Finbeiner would be the first to admit he wasn’t a perfect mayor. But he was a strong mayor because he was involved in the day-to-day business of government.

Finally, I think Mr. Collins truly believes in transparency. That means more than being approachable to the public and available to the press. It means opening the workings of government to public light. That is easier said than done. Once in office, politicians like secrecy. But Mr. Collins has released the detailed reports of his transition team’s working groups.

Best practices, adherence to the strong mayor form, and transparency. Those are decent building blocks.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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