Mike Bell, left, and D. Michael Collins debate Tuesday during a forum at Walbridge Park in South Toledo. Mayor Bell appeared to grow impatient at having to discuss the city’s 2010 deficit.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
Mayor Mike Bell and challenger D. Michael Collins argued for a second straight night on Tuesday about whether the city of Toledo had a $48 million or an $8 million deficit when Mr. Bell took office in 2010, with the mayor saying he is not lying about the numbers.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bell and Collins meet in candidate forum
“There’s no reason for me to lie. You can call me a liar, but I’m not a liar,” Mayor Bell told Mr. Collins.
The topic, which Mr. Bell appeared to be impatient about addressing again, came up during the candidates’ face-to-face encounter in South Toledo’s Walbridge Park.
“I’m just trying to figure out how many times I’ve got to answer this,” Mr. Bell said as he rose to answer the question that Mr. Collins has dogged him with throughout the campaign.
“We’ve got a document that shows exactly what we had to start off with. It was $48 million that we had to deal with,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins, during a forum Monday night, produced a statement from the city council-appointed city auditor, Scott Wheelock, that said the deficit facing the mayor when he took office was only $8 million.
“The auditor of the city of Toledo is a lawyer. He is also a CPA,” Mr. Collins said. “He said Toledo had in all actuality an $8 million deficit. It’s like liars figure and figures lie.”
Mr. Bell recalled the layoffs of 75 police officers in 2009 saying that alone was proof that the city had a bigger problem than $8 million. He said the administration had to defend its handling of the budget in 2010 to bond-rating companies in New York and they boosted the city’s rating from negative to stable outlook.
The mayor has frequently distributed a two-page memo documenting the $48 million deficit. It included a deficit carried over from 2009, a projected deficit in 2010, and additional deficits caused by a budget that was based on funding sources that were projected by the previous administration but never implemented.
“Obviously, the things we put in place, the people that take care of rating the bonds have seen improvement in what we are doing,” the mayor said.
Mr. Collins, who represents the City Council district in which the forum was held, also challenged Mr. Bell on a statement he made in the Monday debate in which the mayor appeared to say that he had meetings in his office with union and management officials of Chrysler.
Mr. Collins said he checked with Ken Lortz, the head of the UAW for Ohio and Indiana, who checked with the local presidents of the Jeep and General Motors UAW locals, and found that none of them had ever met with the mayor.
“You said you had meetings with them. If you had meetings with them, then they are frail of memory or your statement of last night was less than honest,” Mr. Collins said.
In the exchange Monday night on WNWO-TV, Channel 24, after Mr. Collins minimized Mr. Bell’s claims to have had a role in helping General Motors and Chrysler afford to expand their operations in Toledo, Mr. Collins asked Mr. Bell, “When did you ever meet with the UAW and Chrysler?”
“We had meetings in my office right in 2010 when they were going through the transition of trying to re-create some things with their plant,” Mr. Bell responded in the Monday debate.
Mr. Bell refused to admit that he had misled his audience Monday night and said that he was only saying that he had met with Chrysler representatives, acknowledging that it was only with management. “I know, Mike, that you think the union runs the business,” Mr. Bell said.
The demeanor of the two men Tuesday was in contrast to the Monday night forum, when Mr. Bell appeared to enjoy parrying Mr. Collins’ attacks and Mr. Collins at times appeared frustrated. Tuesday night was the mayor’s turn to be unsmiling.
The pair, both political independents, were nominated in the city primary Sept. 10. The election is Nov. 5.
Mr. Collins criticized the mayor’s handling of homeless shelters, saying they are being told to put people on cots and sleeping bags on the floors. He said the mayor misled council into thinking its input was taken into consideration, but then council stepped up and moved money into funding homeless shelters.
“This administration is totally dysfunctional,” Mr. Collins said, giving a lengthy explanation of how the homelessness issue was handled by council.
“We are going to become what we used to be and that’s a caring community,” he said.
Mr. Bell said the administration is following the federal government’s regulations on funding the homeless shelters, saying strict interpretation of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is one of the ways the administration is trying to “fix” the Department of Neighborhoods from a scandal two years ago. He said that some of the functions the shelters want to do cannot be covered by federal funds.
“I am concerned about the homeless. If there’s something else more we want to do, then the mayor and council can get together at any time and allocate extra money to this program,” Mr. Bell said.
In an exchange discussing how to attract highly educated workers and high-tech companies to Toledo, Mr. Collins gave a three-part answer focusing on promoting entrepreneurialism, a university system that attracts faculty who develop the ideas of the future, and leadership with business acumen.
Mr. Bell focused on promoting high school vocational education to provide opportunities for students who don’t want to go to college.
“I know of one person that explained to me that is actually doing quite well, he’s a millionaire. What helped to get him there was he had a counselor in school who said there was absolutely no way he would ever make it through college. You need to pick up a trade. He picked up a trade that became extremely valuable,” Mr. Bell said.
The Q&A was moderated by two members of the Walbridge Park Board, John Irish, who is an activist in the Lucas County Democratic Party, and William Jennings, who is much less active in the Lucas County Republican Party.
In his opening question, Mr. Irish accused Mr. Bell of spending almost no money on Walbridge Park while expending $6 million on Promenade Park, which “is used by virtually no one.”
The mayor disagreed, pointing to the reconstruction of the park service road and the replacement of the roof on the park picnic pavilion next door to the shelter house, and said upgrading the downtown park is important to attract economic development.
“You can look out the window and see the tiles on the shelter as clear as day. The city is performing work in this park,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins lavished praise on the park board, saying the road had to be repaved or the city would have faced litigation. “This building that you complimented is cared for by the park board. They develop money under their own fund-raising,” he said.
The debate was filmed by a videographer for Buckeye CableSystem and then broadcast at 9:30 p.m. on Buckeye’s Channel 69.
Buckeye also plans to make the video available on Buckeye Video on Demand, where it will stay for two weeks, a company spokesman said.
Buckeye, a sister company of The Blade, will videotape and broadcast additional neighborhood debates on Tuesday at Burroughs School in South Toledo, Oct. 22 at Chester Zablocki Senior Center in North Toledo, and Oct. 24 at East Toledo Senior Center.