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Published: Saturday, 4/12/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Toledo mayor's first 100 days included firefighter tragedy, dire weather

Responses to crises earn general praise

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins reflects on his first 100 days in office that included far more tragedy and winter weather emergencies than could have been predicted. Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins reflects on his first 100 days in office that included far more tragedy and winter weather emergencies than could have been predicted.
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During his first 100 days in office, Mayor D. Michael Collins shepherded the city through a community tragedy, oversaw the response for several major snowstorms, hammered out an austere budget, and made good on a politically charged promise to reopen the west side police substation.

“The roller coaster didn’t stop,” the mayor said, describing his time in office so far.

Winter dumped more than seven feet of snow on the city.

Water main after water main burst, flooding streets and cracking pavement. In the midst of fighting the winter weather, the city dealt with the deaths of Stephen Machcinski, 42, and Jamie Dickman, 31 — Toledo firefighters killed fighting a Jan. 26 blaze.

Since their funerals, the firefighters’ deaths are usually the first thing Mayor Collins recalls when asked about his time in office. He fought tears Friday describing the eulogy he delivered for the men when thousands packed the SeaGate Convention Centre to pay final respects.

“It’s an emotional story,” interjected Chief of Staff Bob Reinbolt — giving the mayor three seconds to compose himself and move on with the story.

“That was without question, one of the most difficult things,” Mayor Collins said.

The mayor, a political independent, has drawn praise for how he handled the snow and the firefighters’ deaths from Democrats, Republicans, and even those who supported former Mayor Mike Bell’s re-election bid.

Councilman Jack Ford, a Democrat and former one-term mayor, has on several occasions lauded Mayor Collins for his response to the plethora of issues thrown at the city.

“He opened up the West Toledo police station, he committed to a budget where he cut his office staff dramatically, he put a 2 percent cut across the board with all departments, and he lessened the number of directors,” Mr. Ford said.

During his campaign against Mr. Bell, then-councilman Collins promised that if elected, he would reopen the police substation within the first 100 days of his term. It was shuttered by Mayor Bell to save money. Mayor Collins checked that promise off his list more than two weeks early.

Councilman Tom Waniewski — whose district covers West Toledo — praised the mayor for reopening that police station. But at the same time, the councilman vigorously opposed 2.5 percent wage increases Mayor Collins approved for the city's largest union.

“I will continue to support the mayor when he does his continued best for basic services and that is what he did with that Northwest District Station. ... When we stop taking money from the [capital improvements budget] and we have a rainy-day fund, we can look at raises,” Mr. Waniewski said. “Mike is a good thinker and a hard worker, more than anything, and he's had to redo a couple of things that I am going to cut him some slack for.”

Mr. Waniewski was referring to the mayor's initial 2014 budget that allocated no money for opening public pools this summer. Later, the mayor said Toledo would open four pools and the Savage Park splash pad — down from six pools and the splash pad last year.

Mr. Waniewski said the mayor needs to be cautious about flopping like that.

“He needs to be consistent, he needs to have a plan, and he needs to drive forward with that plan,” he said.

Councilman Steven Steel took umbrage with the city budget process last month, saying there was “a pretty serious hiccup” that pushed a vote to approve the 2014 spending plan to the last possible day.

“He reported a surplus and, just as we are ready to vote, he tells us there is none,” Mr. Steel said. “The numbers were called into question at the last minute by the people who proposed them.”

The mayor's office Friday — on the eve of Mayor Collins’ 100th day leading Toledo — released a list of his “platform promises accomplished or in process.”

Included was cutting the mayor’s staff by 30 percent, hiring a new fire class, starting a “K9” patrol, eliminating two director positions, and hiring two additional code inspectors.

Mr. Collins lambasted Mayor Bell during the campaign for not hiring more police and firefighters, even though his safety-forces hiring exceeded that of the previous two mayors combined.

After the election, Mr. Collins said he did not need to hire the 30 firefighters in 2014 because of recruits Mayor Bell hired late last year. That class of fire department recruits hired under Mayor Bell graduated this year.

Additionally, the mayor said before taking office that he would hire four additional code inspectors, not two.

The Tidy Towns program will be part of Block Watch and give neighborhoods, and the development corporations within them, more active roles in cleaning up blight — such as mowing lawns and cleaning up trash.

The city will launch the first Tidy Town effort in Point Place next month, which technically missed the 90-day deadline Mayor Collins set for himself.

The mayor’s list also included other efforts that started under the previous administration but became public early this year. Those included the sale of 37 acres of city-owned land in Monclova Township to Allermuir to invest $10 million in a new headquarters and factory at the site.

Also, Mayor Collins listed ProMedica’s $40 million plan to purchase and renovate the vacant Steam Plant downtown to consolidate 700 employees in the building and the adjacent Key Bank building on Summit Street.

Mayor Collins said ProMedica’s decision to move downtown was not facilitated by the former mayor.

Other accomplishments he listed were:

● Pushing through a plan to acquire and then raze the vacant former Clarion Hotel in southwest Toledo, at no cost to the city, as part of efforts to attract a new retailer to the Southwyck commercial district.

●Filling more than 40,000 potholes.

● Lobbying against a state bill abolishing new and renewed joint economic development zones.

● Reducing water department customer service response time to less than two minutes.

The Collins administration also was slapped with an unexpected rent increase for the city’s space in One Government Center.

During the campaign, Mr. Collins said he would start a pilot mentoring program within Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools in which mentors would be paid $15 an hour, for five hours a week.

He has not mentioned it publicly since taking office Jan. 2 but also did not set a deadline to start the program.

Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, said in about a week he expects to meet Mayor Collins for the first time.

TPS, under Mr. Durant’s leadership, has developed peer-mentoring programs for boys and girls, called Young Men and Women of Excellence. Mr. Durant said the city expressed interest in helping to support those mentoring efforts.

Mayor Collins said he will make good on long-term promises — especially his idea to lower the city’s 2.25 percent income tax to 2.2 percent while making the whole tax permanent. That would reduce revenue in the general fund by about $3.6 million.

Mr. Collins said the income-tax reduction request would be put before voters in the future, not necessarily in 2014 or even 2015.

He also plans to begin reducing the amount taken out of the city’s capital improvements budget to pay for general-fund operations such as police and fire. During his campaign, then-councilman Collins blasted Mayor Bell for relying so heavily on capital improvements money to keep the general fund balanced.

Councilman Theresa Gabriel said she would grade Mayor Collins’ first 100 days as a “B.”

“I’m not giving him a B-plus, just a B,” Ms. Gabriel said. “To me he is above average.”

Ms. Gabriel cast the lone “no” vote against Mayor Collins’ general fund budget because of the capital improvements money transfer.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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