Mayor Mike Bell missed a neighborhood forum of the East Toledo group Birmingham Development Corp. on Monday night — months after feuding with the organization over his administration’s desire to buy houses next to the water treatment plant — but attended a forum at a central-city library that was closed to the public.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, an independent candidate for mayor, was the only one of the two mayoral candidates who showed up for the 6 p.m. forum in the meeting room of the Birmingham branch library in East Toledo.
Mayor Bell was sent a letter of invitation and got a follow-up phone call but never responded, said the Rev. Frank Eckart, president of the organization. “I haven’t seen Mayor Bell or heard from him,” Father Eckart said.
Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for the mayor, said the mayor’s secretary phoned and left a message on the organization’s voice mail Friday that he had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.
Mr. Bell was at another political event that started a half-hour later — the African-American Leadership Caucus, which met in the Mott Branch library on Dorr Street. Reporters who tried to cover the event were denied admittance to the room by the group’s representative, lawyer Keith Mitchell.
Mr. Bell, also a political independent, said he had the African-American Leadership Caucus on his schedule for “probably the last three or four weeks” and could not have attended both events.
Mr. Collins followed Mr. Bell in speaking to the organization, described as a social group of the Lucas County Democratic Party for people in their 20s and 30s who are being encouraged to get involved in the political process. The campaign aides who arrived with Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins also were excluded from the meeting.
Afterward, Mr. Bell said the African-American Leadership Caucus “asked the same kind of questions as at the forums,” relating to safety and unemployment, and to “why I had to do some of the things I had to do,” a reference to the controversial 2010 budget deliberations to stave off a threatened $48 million deficit.
Father Eckart, a retired former pastor of several East Toledo Catholic churches, said the letter inviting the candidates to the Birmingham event went out “about three weeks” ago.
In his comments to the Birmingham group, which numbered about 25, Mr. Collins advocated his “Tidy Towns” proposal for promoting neighborhood neatness, based on a national campaign in Ireland. He said it is done mostly through mutual encouragement and competition for a “Tidy Towns of the Year” award, and said the program could be seen as an extension of Block Watch.
He promised to implement what he calls “Beat Integrity” — assigning officers for long periods of time to work particular neighborhoods. He called for tough code enforcement — a key issue with neighborhood representatives, and advocated “performance-based budgeting” that would give residents a chance to chime in on whether departments are doing their jobs.
“If we establish this neighborhood by neighborhood, we will be able to turn our city around. Economic development does not function in a city that is not safe,” Mr. Collins said.
“I promise you tonight we will work with city council, we will work as a team instead of the polarization that is going on,” Mr. Collins said. “We will make sure you are not considered to be that other part of Toledo that nobody cares about.’’
Barbara Halasz, treasurer of the Birmingham Development Corp., said the city’s code enforcement has been boosted in the last year with the appointment by the Bell administration of a new code enforcement senior manager.
“He was a big plus. Before that, it seemed like you just spun your wheels” in trying to get the city to respond to neglected homes and other neighborhood nuisances, Ms. Halasz said.
Mayor Bell and Father Eckart recently disagreed about the administration’s effort to buy 28 residential properties near the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, which is adjacent to the Birmingham neighborhood. The administration said it needs to expand the plant to continue providing safe drinking water to the city and suburban communities that buy from the city.
After the neighborhood organization and some homeowners objected, city council passed an ordinance repealing the $700,000 appropriation and restricting the administration to seek council approval to buy one property at a time.
The mayor met with residents of Collins Park Avenue on July 11, along with Father Eckart and Peter Ujvagi, Lucas County chief of public policy, who was also at the Birmingham forum Monday night.
Ward 20, in which Birmingham is located, had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the city on Sept. 10, with 511 voters compared with the ward with the highest turnout, Ward 16 in South Toledo, which had 1,862 voters.
The two candidates are making numerous public appearances since they won the nonpartisan primary election. Events planned for this week include 7 p.m. today at Burroughs School, 2420 South Ave., South Toledo; 7 p.m. Wednesday at Friendship Center, 2930 131st St., Point Place, and 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Toledo Community Center, 1411 Broadway.