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Thursday, November 20, 2014
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Published: Monday, 1/6/2014 - Updated: 10 months ago

This should not be what we remember Mike Bell for

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

There is something to be said for humility.

We aren't born with it. We have to practice.

I wish Mike Bell had practiced more.

I wanted to write a tribute to Mr. Bell when he left office. He's an interesting man. And he has served the city nobly as a firefighter and forthrightly as a mayor. We should not lose sight of that.

He planted some important seeds in economic development, and he righted the fiscal ship. History will be kind to him.

And I still look up to Mr. Bell. But, right now, I'm embarrassed for him.

As reported in The Blade, the former mayor thought gifts given to him on some of his foreign trips were his personal property and could be cleared out of the mayor's office on the 22nd floor before the new mayor took over.

Mr. Bell says he kept some items and gave many away. But he took them all.

These baubles were souvenirs, some just glorified paperweights, others more valuable. And I am sure Mayor Mike Collins can get along without them. But, as I understand it, the law is clear: These gifts are properly seen as gifts to the city and they were not Mr. Bell's property to give away.

Moreover, Mr. Bell also gave gifts on his China trips, and the city paid for those.

But, forget the legality, for a moment.

Making off with the office travel trophies seems out of character for this man. This act was small and arrogant, and not worthy of the Mike Bell I came to know, like, and respect in the campaign.

I still think Mr. Bell is a good guy, but he has diminished himself. He should simply say: My bad. I had no idea what the rule was here and am returning all of the items in question, forthwith.

I was similarly turned off by ex-police chief Derrick Diggs' last act of throwing a wrench in the new appointments at the Police Department, if only for a few hours. The message was: As long as I am in command, I'm the man.

The clear sub-text: It really is all about me.

Not classy. Not adult. And helpful to no one, including Mr. Diggs.

Mayor Collins came to office last week, almost as the anti-egoist. In his inaugural speech, talk really, he quoted Gandhi on politics without principle and religion without sacrifice. He quoted, also, a Lincoln jewel: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

Indeed.

Mr. Collins mumbled much of this and the PA system worked poorly. The swearing-in was homey and a bit bumbling. But in an era of imperial public servants, I think people like a little modesty.

I doubt the new police chief, William Moton, is faking his. He was sworn in last week too. He said very few words, and he choked a bit on what he did say — thank you, Toledo, for allowing me to realize my boyhood dream of becoming a police officer.

“Don't let your ego hijack your practice,” they say in yoga. For Mr. Moton, a disarmingly transparent man — a man with almost no mask at all — it's really all about the badge and the pledge to protect and serve.

I say “thank-you” right back at him.

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



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