Mayor Mike Bell and his opponent in the Nov. 5 election, Councilman D. Michael Collins, jousted over economic development in Toledo in a forum of the Ohio Contractors Association meeting Thursday night.
It was the second public debate since the two emerged as the nominees in last week’s nonpartisan primary election. Both are political independents. About 60 people attended the event at the Toledo Club.
Mr. Collins criticized the Bell administration’s approach to economic development, saying Toledo is stuck in “silos,” or groups that don’t communicate with each other.
“In order for this government to work we need bold new concepts and leadership,” Mr. Collins said. He called for installing the “meta plan,” which would unify the economic development agencies in the region. The plan was developed by Dan Johnson, a former president of the University of Toledo.
“Would it not make more sense that we are all on the same playing field and all going for the same goal,” Mr. Collins said. “I am not going to go out of the country to create this.”
Mr. Bell disputed that he hasn’t tried anything new during his four years.
“We have done some things that nobody thought we could get done,” the mayor said. “Flying to China wasn’t normally inside the box for Toledoans.”
He also boasted of merging Toledo and Ottawa Hills fire services and inviting regional mayors and county commissioners to the mayor’s office for the first time. “People from each of those organizations have traveled with me,” he said, referring to area economic development agencies. “We have a glo-bal economy. If you don’t reach out to other countries, we are missing the mark.”
Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins sparred over state policy, with Mr. Collins saying Toledo was forced to move money from its capital improvements fund into general operations because of state cutbacks in local funding.
And he said the governor’s plan, now in effect, of using Ohio Turnpike tolls to leverage money to pay for projects breaks the promise that was once made to pay off the turnpike and eliminate the tolls.
“I cannot tell you if we will or will not benefit from that circumstance, but I can tell you with the turnpike we really got the short end of the stick,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Bell disagreed, saying the turnpike project freed up $494 million to be spent on local highways.
Mr. Collins and Mr. Bell jousted in a roundabout way about union policy, an issue of concern to the contractors, many of whom use unionized labor.
Mr. Bell said, “We have great skilled union labor here. But to tell you that’s what you have to do, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Mr. Collins recalled the debate over the sale of the Marina District to a Chinese-based firm for $3.8 million. He said council insisted on several conditions, including a letter of intent with a local contractor — not even necessarily a union contractor.
“I do not want to see people on that job site coming here from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia; not that I have anything against them, but by God, we’ve got to put our local people to work first,” Mr. Collins said.