Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins on Tuesday defended his plan to flight blight in the wake of a Blade Special Report highlighting deteriorated houses and unkempt properties.
The mayor, whose campaign last year relied heavily on plans to make neighborhoods better, criticized The Blade’s Special Report published on Sunday and blamed a slothlike municipal housing court for delays cleaning up troubled properties.
Councilman Jack Ford, a former mayor, on Monday described The Blade’s coverage as a “real call to arms” and re-energized his campaign promise from last year to create a Blight Authority, possibly within two weeks. But Mayor Collins said the original story created a “false perception.”
SPECIAL REPORT: The Ugly Truth About Toledo
The mayor likened The Blade’s story to a YouTube user known only as EconCat88, whose videos show up among the top-10 results for a “Toledo, Ohio” search on the video-sharing Web site. Videos include abandoned buildings, empty downtown streets, and boarded-up homes.
“Defining our city as ‘Ugly Toledo’ merits the same reaction as when the work of EconCat88 was a media focus, as well as the response many of us had when Toledo was included on Forbes ‘Most Miserable City’ stories,” said a statement from the mayor’s office. “Labeling our city as ‘Ugly Toledo’ may be headline-grabbing, but it creates a false perception.”
The Blade’s Special Report was titled “The Ugly Truth about Toledo.”
Mayor Collins said Toledo doesn’t need a new Blight Authority.
“At this time, creating an additional governmental arm is unnecessary,” he said. “It would also create additional funding challenges. We face dealing with years of neglect in some neighborhoods, we have a plan in place, and we are moving forward. These efforts along with our version of the Tidy Towns concept, T-Towns, will create an improved value added to our community.”
Mr. Ford said Mayor Collins appeared to be blaming the messenger based on his reaction to the story.
“If the mayor looked to previous regimes, like mine or Carty Finkbeiner’s, he would see a better effectiveness at debris-clearing and grass-cutting,” Mr. Ford said. “Rather than putting the blame to Judge [C. Allen] McConnell, or [the land bank], I would have liked the mayor to say how he intends to fix this.”
Mr. Collins criticized Toledo Municipal Judge McConnell.
“Toledo has homes that are blighted, as does other urban cities,” the mayor’s statement said. “When asked about this by The Blade for their investigative report, the city’s ability to act when it comes to nuisance properties is oftentimes delayed or prevented by the Toledo Municipal Court.”
He said the cases are under the control of the housing court, adjudicated by Judge McConnell.
“Cases have lingered for years with the city unable to force demolition,” the mayor’s statement said. “More than 500 affidavits have been filed in Toledo Municipal Court by our code enforcement department in the past 12 months.”
The mayor said a new “constituent-driven complaint system,” with a smart-phone application, to be released later this summer, will make it easier to report blighted properties by sending in pictures.
There are other legal impediments to cleaning up blight, the mayor said.
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“Some nuisance property owners quit-claim properties to family members, friends, or LLC’s to avoid court action,” the statement said. “A breakdown in communication from Lucas County to the city as it relates to changes in deed-holder information creates an additional delay. When a nuisance-property owner changes the deed, code enforcement must start all over again and having correct contact information concerning the new owners is a must.”
Judge McConnell said the mayor’s statements were “totally inaccurate” and that cases are moved through the court without delay.
“He should look to his own administration,” the judge said. “Housing court does not hold up demolition. There are a number of factors that might cause a demolition to be delayed — if there is a mortgage pending on the property; there is an action pending in common pleas court; historic districts will not allow you to demolish some properties.”
Judge McConnell added, “The city doesn’t even have a budget for demolition now. It all goes through the land bank.”
The Collins administration stressed that the Lucas County Land Bank announced last month that in two years, 838 structures were demolished with more than $6.7 million spent.
Mayor Collins said, “746 of those structures were city of Toledo demolition projects. More houses have been taken down in the past two years than ever before.”