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Published: Sunday, 11/15/2009

Back from vacation, Bell gets down to business

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

He's not yet the mayor, but already Mike Bell is cutting ribbons.

Mayor-elect Bell yesterday helped the owner and manager of Pandora's jewelry store in Westfield Franklin Park snip the ribbon to mark its official opening, his first public action since returning from a post-election vacation.

The mayor-elect, sporting a beard, said he got back Thursday night from San Diego, revealing his previously undisclosed vacation destination. He said he used part of his time to meet with a TV producer about a possible Toledo-based reality show concerning city government.

Pandora's owner, Phil Kajca, who also owns area J. Foster Jewelers locations, said he made repeated phone calls to Mr. Bell until he got through to him Wednesday. He said he thinks Mr. Bell has the energy to move Toledo forward and wanted to be associated with it.

"With his team in place, there's going to be a lot of good things happening," Mr. Kajca said. The store sells gold and gemstone charms, jewelry, and collectibles. Mr. Bell said he agreed to the ribbon-cutting because "anything positive happening in the city I want to help move forward."

He said while on vacation he did some work, helped a friend who is the new Orange County fire chief move into his home, and rented a motorcycle for three days - while complying with California's mandatory helmet law. Mr. Bell has drawn some flak in Toledo for riding without a helmet, as is permitted under Ohio law.

Mr. Bell met with a TV producer who is developing a show about how city government works and casting about for locations.

"We had a nice conversation, just trying to recruit him to come to Toledo instead of somewhere else," he said. "I think it would be the greatest thing in the world for us, from the standpoint of being able to market the city."

Toledoan Robert Russ is an associate producer of the proposed series and has been pitching Toledo as the best site. He said Mr. Bell has kept Toledo in the running.

"What Mayor-elect Bell was able to do was show that he's very open, honest, engaging and strong, and those are the things we're looking for," Mr. Russ, who several years ago moved back to Toledo from Los Angeles, said.

Mr. Bell said he kept up with the news in Toledo, including the mystery over finding $1.5 million in city funds that was identified last week to help trim the deficit.

"That's why we have to have some transparency in the budget system," he said.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner at first said the money had been in the wrong accounts. City Finance Director John Sherburne said the money was in grants that have been determined to be usable for the general fund.

Mr. Bell would not comment on the mayor's tardy release of his 2010 budget, which was to be given to City Council members, under the city charter, by today. It's been promised for tomorrow.

"I have to be very respectful of the current mayor. Whatever he's doing, I guess he's got good reasons," Mr. Bell said.

He said that over the next seven weeks until he is sworn in on Jan. 4 he plans to meet with each of the council members and with business community members. A committee was announced last week to select a transition team. And he said he wanted to have his planned "citizens' special investigation" team to dig into the city's finances in place by Jan. 4.

Mr. Bell, the city's fire chief from 1990 to 2007, beat Keith Wilkowski Nov. 3 to replace Mr. Finkbeiner.

At Pandora yesterday, Lakaren Jones, 44, of North Toledo, was one of those in line for a chance at a $100 gift certificate. She said her husband, Bobby Jones, 63, babysat Mr. Bell, 54, as a small child.

"I feel like I met a celebrity," she said. She approved of the beard. "Winter's coming."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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