The Bell administration's review last week of Toledo councilmen water bill histories may have frayed relationships between Mayor Mike Bell and the city's legislative branch and it prompted a likely mayoral candidate to ratchet up her rhetoric.
Early last week, several councilmen got an unsolicited reminder from the mayor’s office that they had unpaid water bills, have paid bills late, or have received multiple shut-off warnings during the last three years.
Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, who has several times said she is considering running against Mr. Bell, said Friday the “fiasco between council and the mayor” prompted her to be more vocal.
“[Friday] morning I attended the chamber's networking business breakfast and I think it's no surprise to individuals that I am sensing a real frustration regarding the state of the city,” Ms. Lopez said. “After reading the paper [Friday] morning, the water department fiasco between the mayor and City Council has provoked me to be more vocal about my consideration to run for mayor.
"This," she said, "coupled with crime, which is an ongoing problem in the city, and the condition of our neighbors, makes me continue to explore my role as a community leader before I officially decide.”
City Council President Joe McNamara — an announced candidate for mayor — was shown the water bill histories Feb. 5 after a Bell administration order to format them into a single document. That document was obtained by The Blade through a public records request Thursday.
Others at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce breakfast, including Councilman D. Michael Collins, said that the water bill issue was discussed and also confirmed Ms. Lopez talked about her possible mayoral run.
Ms. Lopez declined to answer questions about Mr. McNamara entering the race for mayor.
Councilman George Sarantou said that by creating the list, Mayor Bell was retaliating against council for several things.
Among them are a recently approved mandate that all capital improvement projects be individually presented to council for a vote and a lingering question over the administration purchase of two sport utility vehicles.
Council authorized $3.75 million in 2010 and $3.25 million in 2011 for “replacement vehicles” for the public service department and the streets departments.
Last month, State Auditor Dave Yost’s office said it might open an investigation of the Bell administration’s purchase of the two vehicles that cost taxpayers a combined $69,000.
“We are not going to let that drop,” Mr. Sarantou said.
Councilman Mike Craig said the water bill review was “personal.”
“I hope this is not a sign of things to come,” Mr. Craig said. “But they have some relationships to repair.”
Mr. Bell said he was not retaliating against council for anything.
“I am not angry about anything,” the mayor said. “I have not intended to create any type of wedge. I would think most government officials would want, if you are going to play above ground with the issues, to make sure you are meeting all the rules and procedures of the city.”
He said the list was “discreetly” shown to Mr. McNamara and not intended to be released to the media or public.
Mr. McNamara was shown the list a day after Toledo City Council criticized the Bell administration on its plan to charge a $200 across-the-board deposit for new water accounts.
Among the water bill histories released was data that, as of last week Monday, Councilman Tyrone Riley owed the city $5,379 for water at 19 properties and that he had received 48 “final notices prior to disconnect.”
It takes more than 50 days after missing a payment to get a city shut-off notice.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.