Toledo mayoral challenger D. Michael Collins went on the offensive again today against Mike Bell during an informal forum sponsored by a professional group that already endorsed the incumbent mayor for the Nov. 5 election.
Mr. Collins, speaking before about 25 people with the Toledo Board of Realtors, hammered the mayor on crime statistics and two pending lawsuits – one that stretches back years to Mayor Bell's time as Toledo's fire chief.
In response to a question about potential “budget issues” or shortfalls that could affect the city, Mr. Bell identified the loss of Ohio's estate tax.
“We are starting to put the 2014 budget together understanding that we are anticipating maybe only 1 to 1.5 percent growth,” the mayor said.
Mr. Collins used the question to bring up a lawsuit filed by three female employees who accused the Toledo Fire Department of gender discrimination while Mr. Bell was the chief.
Capt. Carla Stachura and firefighters Judi Imhoff and Geraldine McCalland filed the suit in November, 2005, accusing the city and three fire department officials of gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment for women. All three claimed department officials failed to take action after co-workers subjected them to verbal abuse and sexually demeaning language.
The three officials named in the suit – Mr. Bell and former Deputy Chiefs John Coleman and Robert Metzger - all since have left the fire department.
The city is currently in the Sixth District Court of Appeals appealing a decision in favor of the three firefighters.
“What is the number to resolve that case? I don't know, but I do know those cases can be extremely, extremely costly,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins also said the city has “well-over $1.25 million of liability” in its dispute with Toledo Police Command Officers’ Association over “forced concessions” pushed by Mayor Bell and approved by a majority of council in 2010.
The union filed grievances after the March 30, 2010, decision by city council to declare “exigent circumstances.” Mr. Collins, who was on council at the time, voted against exigent circumstances.
“The court of common pleas opined against the city of Toledo; the court of appeals opined against the city of Toledo,” he said. “There are two cases that cannot be conveniently dismissed as not an issue... We are at risk and there is no dismissing that, there is no walking away from that.”
If elected, Mr. Collins said he would negotiate settlements.
Mr. Bell addressed the lawsuit filed by the three firefighters, saying he was named only because he led the department.
He called it “a little court case.”
“I don't want you thinking that the mayor here is like the mayor in San Diego,” Mayor Bell said. “It is one of those things that was actually called again because I was the fire chief … It was dropped at one time before; it got re-appealed, and so it is about something that happened at a fire station, not with the fire chief. You are the chief, you take the hits on everything.”