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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 3/27/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Real leaders listen and compromise

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Let’s consider two stories that seem different: Perrysburg City Council’s decision to greenlight a Costco store at a terrible location and Toledo Mayor Mike Collins’ assertion that there is no room in his budget for increased funding of homeless shelters.

They seem dissimilar. Perrysburg council is being manifestly irresponsible, and Mr. Collins is trying to be responsible. But both cases are about leadership.

Four of six Perrysburg council members voted to approve a site that presents significant potential threats to public safety: Traffic will reach a dangerous level and there is no concrete plan to address it. A hospital emergency room, already in an weird spot, will be difficult to access. And finally, a gas line has to be moved. This can be done, but it is risky. Why take that risk if there are safer, better sites? Several. And Costco could live with them.

The Perrysburg council vote is a stunning abdication of responsibility by public officials. And a stunning display of arrogance. It also opens Costco to legal and moral liability.

Legal? Yes.

Section 1235.04 (nn) (1) B. of the city charter states, in part: “The zoning lot shall not abut a R-1 through R-5 District unless the existing use is for other than residential purposes.” The point was to protect residential neighborhoods, two of which will be violated with Costco at State Rt. 25 and Eckel Junction Road.

The opposite of leadership. And I would be amazed if there are not many further legal and engineering complications.

Mr. Collins’ situation is a different one. As mayor, he is the city’s chief fiscal officer. So, in one sense, he is doing his duty,

But he is also its moral and political leader.

Mr. Collins campaigned for mayor on a platform of compassion. He promised to be the champion of the homeless and of the city’s shelters, which have been cut, and cut, and cut. These shelters not only house the homeless but battered women and mothers trying to defeat addiction and get home to their kids. Mr. Collins excoriated the previous administration for its indifference to shelters.

Adopting the shelters as his cause helped Mr. Collins politically. When his opponents said he was a cranky old man who could only oppose and not build, his supporters pointed to his championship of the shelters and said: “Collins cares.”

Now, some of those supporters feel betrayed.

The mayor is correct that the city has unexpected expenses this year and a “structural deficit” beyond. But the additional $140,000 Councilman Jack Ford proposes for the shelters won’t make that structural deficit worse nor will withholding it make it better. The shelter money is a drop in the bucket in a massive budget and even larger fiscal puzzle. Yet that budgetary pittance will save lives.

I worry about leaders who decide they have the truth and dig in. The people always suffer.

Real leaders listen and compromise. This is a time for Mr. Collins to do both.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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