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Published: Friday, 8/31/2012

Bell's office discloses luxury SUV purchase

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Dignitaries and investors visiting the city of Toledo soon will be cruising in style on 18-inch wheels, relaxing in supple leather seats, and listening to music from premium speakers, all included in a brand-new sport utility vehicle which carried a $42,000 price tag.

The 2013 Chevy Tahoe, from a metropolitan Toledo dealer, is equipped with the luxury package costing $1,386, off-road package costing $1,395, rear bucket seats for $520, four corner strobe lights for $450, and specialty floor mats. It will join the Bell administration's already-purchased 2011 GMC Terrain, which cost Toledo taxpayers $26,516.

Bell administration officials met before a Toledo City Council committee Thursday to share good news that city tax revenue is running head of last year by about $3.9 million, or 5.3 percent, but that was quickly run over by Councilman D. Michael Collins' questions about the combined $69,000 for the two vehicles.

Council authorized $3.75 million in 2010 and $3.25 million last year for "replacement vehicles" for the public service department and the streets departments. Mr. Collins said the two luxury vehicles don't appear on a list of city inventory and demanded answers on who is driving them and why they were bought when the city is still facing austere 2012 and 2013 budgets.

"I think it is incumbent upon on the administration since we are in these austere periods," Mr. Collins told some of Mayor Mike Bell's top officials.

"My concern is the devious practice of purchasing these vehicles under the pretext that they would be equipment replacement for public service when they don't remotely qualify for that," Mr. Collins told The Blade. "For the mayor to say he believes in transparency and then hoodwinks us in the amount of $3.75 million and $3.25 million and they carve things out for the mayor's office is not only disingenuous, and I am not sure it is even lawful."

After the committee meeting, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said both vehicles are assigned to the mayor's office.

"We get a lot of dignitaries and investors and we want to have a nice vehicle to take them around town," Mr. Herwat said. "We don't want to take them around in a 2002 Jeep Liberty."

He said the mayor will use the vehicles in his duties as a host during the Five Lakes Global Economic Forum in September.

Council President Joe McNamara said he was surprised when he heard Mr. Collins rattle off the luxury options in the Tahoe.

Mr. McNamara said he would not have voted to authorize such a purchase. "Absolutely not, of course not," he said. "It is the issue of austerity and getting our police numbers back to where they need to be, getting roads paved."

Mr. McNamara said a luxury purchase gives Toledoans the wrong impression.

"There is a ballot issue asking for more recreation money, the mayor is asking that pay raises be given -- we need to be judicious with taxpayers' dollars," he said. "I will listen to what the mayor's office has to say, but it doesn't send the right message that we need to be frugal with taxpayer dollars, and we are going to have to review the legislation to be sure it was properly authorized."

Mr. McNamara also asked why the mayor's office did not buy a locally made vehicle such as a Jeep.

The Tahoe is made in Arlington, Texas, and the Terrain is assembled in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada.

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



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