Incumbent Mike Bell was left standing alone Monday by his opponents in the race for mayor on the question of whether to release the Toledo Police Department's gang-territory map.
Later that day, city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said Mr. Bell will continue with his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court to keep from releasing to The Blade a copy of the city’s gang-territory map.
The Blade on Monday obtained a copy of the police department’s map through sources, and it is published in today’s edition and online at toledoblade.com/toledogangs.
Mayoral candidates Joe McNamara and Anita Lopez, both Democrats, independent D. Michael Collins, and Libertarian Michael Konwinski said the court appeal should end. Most of the councilmen contacted by The Blade on Monday agreed. Independent candidate Alan Cox could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Collins, a retired police officer, said Mayor Bell should quit the appeal because the map does not provide any information that would compromise investigations or prosecutions.
“It’s characteristic of the chief of police, exercising a total disregard for transparency and providing public records,” Mr. Collins said of police Chief Derrick Diggs. He called the The Blade’s lawsuit a “very expensive lesson” for Mr. Bell “as it relates to transparency and public records.”
Ms. Lopez said the city gang map obtained by The Blade is further proof that Toledo has a gang problem and needs a new mayor to deal with it.
“Both maps show that there is a problem in the city of Toledo with gangs,” she said, adding that she would expand the police department’s gang task force.
“The administration should stop wasting taxpayer dollars and the law department’s time and be transparent and confirm this is the map and put their energy and effort toward creating a safer community,” Ms. Lopez said. “Their failure to do so reflects that they have no plan to make Toledo safe.”
She said she would recruit national talent to address the problem. “We will recruit someone experienced. We need someone who’s an expert nationally on the issue to come in and combat the issue locally,” she said. She did not specify what position the national expert would hold.
Mr. McNamara called the appeal a waste of the city’s resources. He said refusal to share the map with the public undermines the city’s anti-gang effort, Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence.
He said the best way to combat gang violence is to involve the local community, and that the city’s failure to release the map means that it is not properly implementing the CeaseFire model of fighting gangs that was shown to be effective in Chicago. Toledo’s version of that program is the community initiative.
“Part of the whole TCIRV model is to involve the community to stop the violence,” Mr. McNamara said. “I would fix TCIRV. I don’t think the city of Toledo has implemented the model correctly.”
Mr. McNamara said he has not seen the city’s map before. The administration briefed council about its appeal of the 6th District Court of Appeals ruling in an executive session on July 30 but did not show council members the map, said Councilman Steven Steel who chaired the closed-door meeting.
B.J. Fischer, a spokesman for Mr. Bell’s re-election campaign, said the mayor ‘‘feels that he’s going to do the correct thing to protect the safety of the community, and if there’s political ramifications, so be it.”
In response to Ms. Lopez’s call for a bigger gang task force, Mr. Fischer said Mr. Bell has expanded the force and brought about an 18 percent reduction in crime.
“What we don’t need are more unfunded promises from Anita Lopez. People can judge Mayor Bell from his record on crime,” Mr. Fischer said.
The Blade produced its own gang map more than a year after filing a public records lawsuit to force the Bell administration to release its map. Last month, the appellate court ruled in a 2-1 vote that the map was a public record and should be turned over to the news organization. The Bell administration filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court on July 30.
City Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson, a lawyer and former state employee who dealt with public records, said the mayor should drop the issue and “move on to other issues especially since [The Blade] already has it.”
Toledo Councilman Mike Craig — the district councilman representing East Toledo and part of South Toledo where gangs are known to operate according to the city’s map and the one created independently by The Blade — said it’s a moot point now that the newspaper has the map.
“I cannot speak for the mayor, but I wouldn’t have pushed it this far,” Mr. Craig said. “I am not sure it holds the significance the [Bell] administration thinks it has.”
Councilman Steel, a candidate for re-election, said he wanted to talk to city Law Director Adam Loukx before commenting at length.
“But if that is the official document, it seems like a moot point,” he said.
Mr. Steel said he didn’t recall any other councilmen adamantly wanting to fight the newspaper.
Mr. Loukx, through a city spokesman, declined to comment.
Councilman George Sarantou, one of three Republicans on council, said Mayor Bell should drop the appeal.
“I think that map should have been released to The Blade,” Mr. Sarantou said. “It is an important matter of public information and I think that was the proper approach. Obviously, the mayor doesn’t feel that way, but why go on with it, if The Blade feels it has an authentic copy? I don’t think the city needs to pursue this anymore.”
Councilman Tom Waniewski, who has consistently supported the release of the map, said Mayor Bell should not “litigate and spin his wheels,” even though he said he respects Mr. Bell’s lack of concern with possible political damage to his re-election campaign.
“He does not look at things with political glasses on,” Mr. Waniewski said.
After The Blade created its own map, Councilman Rob Ludeman said the city’s map should be released to The Blade. He declined to comment Monday on whether the appeal should be continued.