Lopez blasts Bell, McNamara on pay-raise proposal

Mayoral candidate says ‘shell games’ cost citizens more for services

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    Lucas County Auditor and Toledo mayoral candidate Anita Lopez attacked Mayor Mike Bell and City Councilman Joe McNamara on Saturday for support of proposed pay increases for city leaders as city residents face more utility-rate hikes.

    “The mayor and the [then]-president of City Council played shell games with public dollars, costing citizens more fees and more money for basic services,” Ms. Lopez said during a morning news conference in front of One Government Center. “To now even consider a raise is an insult to citizens and city employees. I certainly hope that the leadership makes the right decision and does not reward themselves for failed leadership over the past four years.”

    Council’s salary review commission has proposed increases in the mayor’s and city council members’ salaries that will be presented at council’s meeting Tuesday, as announced by council President Paula Hicks-Hudson during a committee-of-the-whole meeting last Tuesday.

    The commission determined that the mayor’s salary should be increased 11 percent, to $136,000 from $122,400, and the salary of a councilman should go up 18 percent, to $32,500 from $27,500. The mayor’s salary was reduced from $136,000 to $122,400 four years ago when Democrat Carty Finkbeiner was mayor, and it has remained so during Mayor Bell’s term.

    “Front-line city employees made concessions, citizens have had to have increased fees — and not only our water supply but also other fees — as a result of the failed leadership of Mayor Mike Bell and the former president of city council Joe McNamara,” Ms. Lopez said. “These have increased water rates and other fees at the expenses of citizens, yet they are able to find and even contemplate giving money to themselves.”

    “Lopez has the facts wrong,” Andrew Grunwald, Mr. McNamara’s campaign manager, responded. “Joe has constantly opposed pay raises and led the fight against the mayor’s double-dipping. This is part of a larger pattern when it comes to questionable ethics with the way Lopez runs her campaign and office.”

    Mark Luetke, Mayor Bell’s campaign consultant, said water-rate increases are driven by the city water system’s decayed condition.

    “The city of Toledo’s water system is in serious need of repair,” Mr. Luetke said. “That is a fact that no responsible person can challenge. The issue has been studied and delayed for many years. The mayor believes action is necessary now, including making the tough decisions of how to pay for the project.”

    Ms. Lopez launched her campaign for mayor Wednesday at a South Toledo community center with promises to restore a declining city of Toledo. She and Mr. McNamara, both Democrats, and three others are challenging Mayor Bell, an independent. If elected, Ms. Lopez would be Toledo’s second woman mayor, after Donna Owens, a Republican who served in the 1980s during Toledo’s city manager era.

    During her news conference, Ms. Lopez called for “a full audit and review of the department of public utilities” and other city departments, claiming Mayor Bell and Mr. McNamara have “failed to address the water system issues that have cost the city major dollars.”

    “Recent city leadership has ignored the serious responsibility of the region’s water supply, and now Toledoans are paying the price every time they turn on the faucet,” she said.

    Metro Toledo’s 500,000 residents should learn early this week if their water rates are going up, according to Mrs. Hicks-Hudson, who has stated an intent to bring the matter out of committee and ask for a final vote from council Tuesday.

    The Bell administration has proposed annual rate increases of more than 13 percent for four years, starting Jan. 1, and 4.5 percent in 2018 to help pay for long-overdue repairs to the city’s Collins Park water treatment plant and its aging distribution network.

    The network serves Toledo and several neighboring communities in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. The work would create 683 construction jobs for each of those five years, according to Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat.

    Mr. McNamara, then city council president, called on Mayor Bell during a Jan. 28 news conference to conduct an affordability study in setting rate increases for the water system improvements, because care is needed to ensure new rates do not burden citizens excessively.

    Contact Mike Sigov at: 419-724-6089, sigov@theblade.com, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.