D. Michael Collins indisputably knows Toledo will lose a long-running lawsuit filed by a city union.
“We will lose the exigent circumstances case at the Supreme Court of Ohio. I don’t care what the court of appeals said,” Mr. Collins said on Friday, describing a dispute with the police command officers union. “Before it ever gets there, I have to try and negotiate that.”
Listening to that legal declaration was his wife, Sandy Drabik — a retired lawyer who was the University of Toledo’s vice president for administrative services and chief general counsel and previously held high-ranking government positions for Republican Govs. Bob Taft and George Voinovich.
“I kinda wish he said ‘could,’ ” Ms. Drabik interjects.
“My lawyer,” Mr. Collins quipped back, pointing at his wife of eight years.
That kind of banter is common for the couple, and when Mr. Collins refers to his campaign or running the city next year, he often uses the word “we.”
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The mayor-elect, who takes office on Jan. 2, is in the midst of putting together a transition team following his victory over incumbent Mike Bell on Tuesday. He is working out plans to fulfill campaign promises such as cutting the income tax and hiring more police officers, but first, the new mayor said he’ll select a team to fill top positions in his administration — most importantly chief of staff and perhaps even a new police chief.
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Among those promises was that no family members would collect a city paycheck, but he makes no secret that he and Ms. Drabik are a team.
“I am not looking at eight years,” he said. “I am only looking at four years. If eight years happens, it happens. ... If I feel that I have done a good job and we feel as a husband and wife that we should run again, that is one thing, but we are not making that decision the day I take office.”
Mr. Collins said he and Ms. Drabik did not discuss confidential matters about UT when she was the school’s general counsel, but they often talk about city policies and politics.
“Do I use Sandy as a sounding board? I think I would be foolish not to,” Mr. Collins said. “The reality is she has had more government experience than I ever will have.”
Ms. Drabik, a registered Republican, was entrenched in Ohio politics while working for the two former Republican governors. Before she was a lawyer or got involved in government, Ms. Drabik studied botany at Ohio State University.
“I served as a cabinet member under Governor Voinovich,” she said. “He had really strong orders to his cabinet, which was ‘you do the function you were hired to do and you stay out of the campaigning and political side,’ so he is someone I admire a great deal.”
Governor Voinovich influenced her career, which in turn translates into how she’ll counsel her husband.
“This is an opportunity to support as his wife and not be involved in the governance of the city,” Ms. Drabik said. “I have an opinion just like other voters and taxpayers and probably an opportunity to express it, but we have always been very careful to respect the boundaries of our jobs.”
The title of first lady of Toledo is daunting to Ms. Drabik.
“It carries with it a special opportunity and a special responsibility to support him in a way that does something good for Toledo,” Ms. Drabik said. “I worried about getting him elected. I didn’t worry about this role and now I am thinking this role could be very influential.”
In the same way Michelle Obama has worked to address childhood obesity or Laura Bush pushed for better literacy education nationwide, Ms. Drabik plans to concentrate on Mr. Collins’ push for a concept called “Tidy Towns.” The program will be part of Block Watch and give individual neighborhoods, and the development corporations within them, more active roles in cleaning up blight — such as mowing lawns and cleaning up trash. More communication, the Collins couple said, is needed between residents and the city to make such an effort work.
Others are offering Mayor-elect Collins advice.
Bob Reinbolt, former chief of staff for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, is leading the transition team.
“I am advising him not to change anything he has done. He got to where he is by believing in his own conscience and believing in his own moral compass,” he said. “We need to put the team together and we are trying to get a blend together — we don’t care if they were Bell supporters or Collins supporters.”
Mr. Reinbolt started working with Mr. Collins about seven months ago.
“He didn’t know if he would run,” Mr. Reinbolt said. “We pulled together a very young team by going out to the university. ... It was textbook how not to run a campaign but turned out to be the perfect way to run a campaign — very grass-roots.”
Talk that Mr. Finkbeiner would be part of the incoming administration is false, Mr. Collins said.
“We are going to notify everyone that they can reapply for their own jobs,” he said. “We may have to look into an early retirement incentive package because I am not going to summarily throw them under the bus. We will not be vindictive or mercurial if they supported Mayor Bell.”
Mr. Collins said there will be fresh faces in city government but also familiar faces.
Bill Franklin, who was Mayor Finkbeiner’s public service director, could be asked to mentor within the city for six to 18 months, Mr. Collins said.
The police chief’s position has been one of the most discussed, along with chief of staff.
The future of Police Chief Derrick Diggs is unclear.
Mr. Collins said Chief Diggs should have spoken up in his defense when the issue of racial profiling was raised multiple times during the campaign.
Mayor Bell and Mr. Collins clashed repeatedly on the question of whether Toledo police officers engaged in racial profiling. Mr. Collins said at a forum sponsored by the Toledo chapter of the NAACP earlier in the campaign that based on a report from the city police department, he did not believe racial profiling existed. He turned the question back at Mr. Bell, asking several times if the report was a lie.
Mr. Collins said the internal police department report said there had been no reports of racial profiling.
On Friday, Mr. Collins said that Chief Diggs and Safety Director Shirley Green should have taken ownership and responsibility for that report.
“They left me swinging in the breeze and in social media,” Mr. Collins said. “They had an ethical and moral responsibility to admit to that report and they didn’t. ... We wouldn’t be having this discussion about Derrick Diggs if he had stood up and took full responsibility for the report.”
The mayor-elect and police chief have not spoken since the election.
Mr. Collins said the conversation will eventually determine if Chief Diggs remains as Toledo’s top cop.
“If you don’t trust that person you are sitting next to, how do you work with them?” Mr. Collins said, using an analogy of two police partners working together in a patrol car.
“I am giving him the opportunity to talk when the dust settles,” he said.
Chief Diggs did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Dealing with labor
Mr. Collins promises cooperation with City Council — similar to the way Mayor Bell did four years ago. He also promises a different approach to dealing with city unions — interest-based bargaining with the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent agency created in 1947.
Mr. Collins was a Toledo police officer for 27 years and a decade of that time was spent as president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association union. During that time, he was known as an enforcer of the contract and a tough negotiator.
Mayor Bell’s controversial position in 2011 on Senate Bill 5 and state Issue 2, supporting Gov. John Kasich’s push to weaken public employee bargaining rights, sent a tidal wave of union support and money toward Mr. Collins — including that of nearly all city unions.
Mr. Collins acknowledges that may create a perception that the unions expect a quid pro quo from 2014 to 2017.
That’s not the case, he said.
“When you say, ‘I will be completely in union’s pocket,’ I have been a union president and I know how to say no, but it is how you say no and doing it in a fashion so when the door closes they are not mad at you,” Mr. Collins said.
TPPA President Dan Wagner said the union endorsed Mr. Collins “for his integrity” and not because they expect a raise in 2014.
“His integrity is not for sale — not to us, not to anyone else,” Mr. Wagner said. “All we expect is someone who is a better listener, not set in his ideology, and willing to listen.”
Don Czerniak, president of service workers union AFSCME Local 7 — the city’s largest union with 900 employees — does expect a raise in 2014, but not as payback for supporting Mr. Collins.
“I don’t believe there will be a payback,” Mr. Czerniak said. “I believe we need to be treated fairly, especially Local 7. Everyone else got a raise except Local 7.”
The union local has a 2014 wage reopener clause in its current contract.
In addition to negotiating contracts, city employees are anxious to see if Mr. Collins will have the hands-ons management style of Mayor Finkbeiner, the hands-off approach used by Mayor Bell, or something in the middle.
“He will have enough items to worry about like crime, the poor, the homeless, and the budget,” Mr. Czerniak said. “He is going to give people the rope to do their jobs. If you want to use it to do your job you can, or you can use it to hang yourself.”