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Toledo Mayor Mike Bell defended his administration’s economic development record Thursday as he filed his candidate petitions for re-election, saying employment in Toledo has grown by 6,100 people since he took office.
The politically unaffiliated mayor submitted 1,388 signatures to the Lucas County Board of Elections, becoming the third of an expected seven candidates to turn in their petitions to be on the Sept. 10 primary ballot. A minimum of 750 valid signatures is required.
Democrat Anita Lopez and independent D. Michael Collins have already filed. Democrat Joe McNamara announced he would file today in time for the 4 p.m. deadline. Also still to file are independent Alan Cox, Libertarian Michael Konwinski, and Republican Opal Covey.
“We took an administration that came in in 2010 with the worst budget ever in the city of Toledo. We have not only been able to balance a budget but we have a $5 million surplus,” Mr. Bell said. “I think we’ve done a great job under adverse situations.”
Elected in 2009, Mr. Bell took office in January, 2010.
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bell has made no effort to record every new business expansion or retention since the start of his term. Campaign spokesman B.J. Fischer said the figure of 6,100 new jobs in Toledo was taken from a monthly report published by the state Department of Labor comparing total employment in the city at the end of May, the most recent count available, with January, 2010.
The city had 114,800 employed people in January, 2010, and 120,900 in May. Employment reached its highest point so far under Mayor Bell in October, 2012, at 121,500. Compared with May, 2010, total employment in the city increased by 1,400 people as of May, 2013.
During that same time — May, 2010, to May, 2013, the city’s total labor force fell from 133,100 workers to 132,400, and the unemployment rate dropped from 11.9 percent to 8.7 percent.
Mr. Bell’s emphasis on job creation came as opponents Ms. Lopez, Mr. McNamara, and Mr. Collins targeted job creation as keys to their candidate platforms.
Mr. Bell offered no new details on economic development for a second term, saying he would continue his current policy aimed at improving public safety, balancing the budget, and fixing problems in the aging water and sewer system before system failures begin requiring residents to boil water for safety.
“I think if we keep doing more of the same — getting more police officers, getting more firefighters, fixing 61 miles of road — I think we’re going to be OK,” he said, adding that fixing the city’s infrastructure is a top priority. “I don’t think we have to change the plan. I think we have to increase the plan to make sure our city becomes one of the most stable cities, not only in the state of Ohio, but in the United States.”
Mr. Bell said one thing he would try to do differently in a second term is be a better communicator, but he portrayed himself as somewhat impatient with the pace of government action.
“I still have that fire chief mentality. I’m about trying to put the fire out. I can probably be a little bit better at communicating my initiatives. We’re competing against other cities our size. If we don’t move quick enough we’re going to get behind those cities,” Mr. Bell said.
He defended the inactive Marina District project as having brought $3.8 million to the city’s general fund through the sale of the city-owned property to Chinese investors in 2011, and he said he’s confident that it will be developed. He said other parcels have remained undeveloped longer than the Marina District and little is said about them.
Mr. Bell responded to criticism from Ms. Lopez, who said that the giant sewer collapse on Detroit Avenue last week revealed his administration is not transparent or responsive to citizens. She said that when she called the city water department a recorded voice told her she was the 30th person on hold. Ms. Lopez has vowed to have live people answer all phones if she is elected.
Mr. Bell said he could assign enough people to answer every phone call but said it would be costly and inefficient, and he said citizens were clear in 2009 that they did not want their taxes raised.
“I think that sometimes she just doesn’t get it. We don’t have unlimited staff to do things. When we started doing things we could not afford we got into that $48 million deficit,” Mr. Bell said, referring to the deficit the administration said it was facing in order to balance the 2010 budget.
As unfinished business, Mr. Bell said that he wants to stop using capital improvement funds to balance the general fund.
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