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Published: Saturday, 10/3/2009

Mayor attacks vote-duckers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner made it known Friday just how red-faced angry he was over the defeat of his plan to hike Toledo's monthly trash fee because of two councilmen's political maneuvers earlier this week.

The mayor asked council to consider censuring members who follow the example of Councilmen Frank Szollosi and D. Michael Collins, who on Tuesday ducked out of a meeting to avoid voting on the proposed fee increase legislation.

"Let's not duck our responsibilities by simply either not showing up for a council vote or running out of the chambers to prevent a vote from taking place," Mr. Finkbeiner wrote in a memo to council. "That's just plain inexcusable."

Mr. Szollosi, a longtime opponent of the trash fee, made no secret of his plan to leave council chambers and avoid a 6-6 vote, which the mayor would have then had the authority to break with an affirmative vote and increase the fee. He even urged others to join him, after which Mr. Collins did.

Council rules require seven affirmative votes to approve a measure.

Council President Joe McNamara told the mayor his request was out-of-bounds.

"Let me remind you that as mayor, you are head of the executive branch of government," he wrote back to the mayor. "It is a complete violation of the separation of powers doctrine, not to mention Section 35 of the [city] charter, for you to suggest disciplining a member of the legislative branch."

The council president also wrote: "Your inappropriate meddling in the legislative branch of government will not be entertained, condoned, or tolerated."

The mayor quickly fired back another memo to Mr. McNamara, saying he missed the point and calling the actions by Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Collins unconscionable.

He said they walked out to "cower behind the door in a trans-parent attempt to circumvent this voting rule."

Mr. Szollosi's refusal to remain in council chambers and vote Tuesday night prevented a likely 6-6 tie on an ordinance that would have increased the fee and simultaneously established a recycling incentive program that offers coupons and gift certificates for groceries and other goods.

With Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Collins gone, Mr. McNamara demanded the legislation be sent to council's finance committee without a vote.

Mr. Szollosi declined yesterday to respond to the mayor's letter at length.

"I will not be making any comments responding to the attached letter from Mayor Finkbeiner, other than to say I'm simply relieved we kept over $8 million in the hands of Toledo's struggling families this past Tuesday," he said. "I've offered legislation for three years that reduces spending, which the mayor has opposed."

Mr. Collins also supported the action he and Mr. Szollosi took.

"When I looked at the entire set of circumstances, I felt strongly that to impose upon the taxpayers fees without any explanation or any effort to look internally to resolve budget issues internally was unacceptable," he said.

On Sept. 1, council voted down the trash fee increase, with five in favor and six against. Voting in favor of the trash fee increase and rewards program were Mr. McNamara, Wilma Brown, Phillip Copeland, George Sarantou, and Steven Steel.

Voting against were Mr. Collins, Tom Waniewski, Lindsay Webb, Michael Ashford, Mike Craig, and Betty Shultz.

Mrs. Shultz said Tuesday night she intended to change her vote to yes, which would have made the split six in favor of the increase and six opposed. She said she did not think through the increase when it came up for a vote four weeks ago and also that she did not want to leave a legacy that included a "bankrupt city."

The change would have granted Mayor Finkbeiner's long-standing request to increase the refuse fee to $10 a month from $8.50 for those who don't recycle and to $7 a month from $1 for those who do recycle.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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