Mayor urges Toledo City Council on public safety issues

Bell says group's politics are stalling 'simple' ordinances

Mayor Mike Bell
Mayor Mike Bell

Mayor Mike Bell took some of his disputes with Toledo City Council public today and urged the legislative body to stop stalling on three public safety ordinances.

The mayor, during a morning news conference, blasted some members of council for holding up his requests to spend $380,000 of capital improvement money for a computer system for the city's data driven policing project; spend $250,000 from the the city's parkland replacement fund to renovate part of the former Leverette Middle School at 1111 Manhattan Blvd. for the Police Athletic League, and also to re-confirm Police Chief Derrick Diggs.

“All of these things to me, if you take the politics away from it, are very simple,” Mr. Bell said at the Police Athletic League’s temporary facility in North Toledo.

The mayor targeted one councilman in particular - without naming him - as a roadblock to many of his requests.

The mayor said several times that the issues are not political, but the confirmation of Chief Diggs is opposed by Councilman Joe McNamara, who is running against Mr. Bell and others for mayor. Councilman D. Michael Collins, who often opposes the mayor and formerly ran for mayor, opposes the other two ordinances. He said he would support Chief Diggs' confirmation. 

Chief Diggs, 57, was quietly sworn in on March 25 as police chief by Mayor Bell four days after he officially retired. The chief has been in charge of the department since October, 2011, but retired because he had reached the maximum number of years police officers and firefighters are allowed to remain in Ohio's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP. Mayor Bell agreed to rehire the chief for the same job.

DROP is an optional benefit that is meant to be "cost-neutral for the pension fund."

A calculator on the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund's Web site estimates Chief Diggs could receive a pension of about $71,000 based on his nearly 36 years of service and his $102,132 annual salary. The Toledo Municipal Code sets the chief's salary and he could not be paid less upon returning.  

After deductions, Chief Diggs’ severance check from the city, which includes unused sick and vacation time, will be approximately $74,232, city records show.

The mayor dismissed criticism that the chief is a so-called “double-dipper,” which refers to someone who collects a pension and a salary.

“We decided to keep a home product here and I think that is very important,” Mr. Bell said.

The chief said the software is essential for the data driven policing project, which includes the use of surveillance cameras mounted throughout the city.

“We have had tremendous results as far as reduction in crime,” Chief Diggs said. “We have a situation where we are trying to get additional software to enhance this data driven process.”

The data driven policing project ordinance was introduced on Feb. 5, and placed into council's law and criminal justice committee, of which Mr. Collins is the chairman. The Police Athletic League ordinance was introduced March 5 and some council members have attempted to amend the legislation using an ineligible funding source, said Toledo spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei. 

Council could vote on all three issues during its regular meeting at 4 p.m. today. 

Mr. McNamara said he will vote against the confirmation of Chief Diggs.

"Council has a co-equal role in city government and public safety," he said. "Mike Bell needs to respect our power role in the running of Toledo." 

The next mayor, if Mr. Bell is defeated in November, could not remove a police or fire chief who has council confirmation unless there is just cause. That was the case with former Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre when then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner tried to replace him. During a brief period in 2006, from Jan. 4 to June 27, when Mr. Finkbeiner replaced Chief Navarre with Jack Smith, Chief Navarre was demoted to the rank of deputy chief and assumed duties as the interim executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Mr. Finkbeiner reappointed Chief Navarre to lead the department hours after Chief Smith stepped down.

Mr. McNamara said the the next mayor should pick the next police chief.

"If voters reelected Mike Bell then that obviously could be Chief Diggs," Mr. McNamara said.