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Published: Wednesday, 10/7/2009

Candidates clash at Walbridge Park forum

Keith Wilkowski, left, and Mike Bell present their approaches to economic development last night in a forum at the Walbridge Park Shelter House. Keith Wilkowski, left, and Mike Bell present their approaches to economic development last night in a forum at the Walbridge Park Shelter House.

The two candidates for mayor of Toledo contrasted their approaches to economic development and fielded questions on other subjects last night in a forum at the Walbridge Park Shelter House.

Democrat Keith Wilkowski reiterated that he has background and experience in job creation and economic development from when he was a Lucas County commissioner and a city law director. Independent Mike Bell emphasized his experience in regional cooperation as fire chief and state fire marshal.

Mr. Wilkowski vowed he'd hire a full-time economic development director and criticized overreliance on the "Meta Plan" proposed by the University of Toledo for bringing all the area economic development agencies together and coordinating their plans.

"Here's the trouble, the city of Toledo does not have a plan. I think that's shameful," Mr. Wilkowski said. "You would expect more out of your child's second-grade teacher to have a lesson plan. A key part is a full-time high-quality, economic development director on the job."

He said the city has "passed the buck on economic development" to the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority, the Regional Growth Partnership, and the University of Toledo.

Mr. Bell touted his alternative to a full-time economic development director: a full-time business advocate.

"The business advocate position is the person that works with the external portion. That person will have an economic development background. Businesses have said we do not pay attention and react quick enough to the concerns of business," Mr. Bell said.

He defended his reliance on the UT's META Plan, saying, "If we as the city of Toledo get with people who know what should be happening in this region, we don't have to re-create the wheel.

"All we need to be doing is sitting at the table and take parts of the discussion that will help us and help the region to grow," Mr. Bell said. "That is why it is so important to have somebody assigned not only with manufacturing but also with small businesses."

Mr. Bell said he would have an advisory council to keep government apprised.

"We have a very diverse community but we don't engage them into any portions of government. We leave them out, and some of them are extremely bright people," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Wilkowski said that as law director from 1990 to 1994, he appointed a group of lawyers "to help me guide some changes I thought were necessary. Every department in the city of Toledo has the opportunity to do that."

"We have come through a period of time where the style coming out of the 22nd floor has not been welcoming, let us say. We need to change that style," he said.

Both candidates indicated they would continue the conversion of trash collection to automation.

Mr. Wilkowski said the city has already invested too much in automation to reverse course and he said the city needs the financial savings promised by automation. He said he'd like to see private haulers contract to perform about two-thirds of the trash collection in Toledo, and retain one-third to be done by city government.

Mr. Bell also said he would not stop automation, but he wouldn't automate the entire city in case the trash is not collected well enough to maintain the city's clean appearance.

"I've seen those automated trucks work. They're pretty impressive but there are portions of our city where it's just not going to be functional," Mr. Bell said. He also said he would put some of the city trash-hauling up for bid and give city employee unions the opportunity to bid as well.

The meeting was attended by most of the 12 candidates for City Council and by about 40 neighborhood residents.

Contact Tom Troy

at tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

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