Toledo's mayor shot back with vigor today against a Blade story on blight, and he blamed a sloth-like housing court for delays cleaning up troubled properties.
Councilman Jack Ford, a former mayor, on Monday described The Blade’s Special Report on blight as a “real call to arms” and re-energized his campaign promise from last year to create a Blight Authority, possibly within two weeks. But Mayor Collins said the story created a “false perception” and that a Blight Authority is unnecessary.
SPECIAL REPORT: The Ugly Truth About Toledo
The mayor likened The Blade story to a YouTube user known only as EconCat88, whose videos show up among the top-10 results for a “Toledo, Ohio” search on the video sharing Web site. Videos include abandoned buildings, empty downtown streets, and boarded up homes.
“Defining our city as 'Ugly Toledo' merits the same reaction as when the work of EconCat88 was a media focus, as well as the response many of us had when Toledo was included on Forbes 'Most Miserable City' stories,” said a statement from the mayor's office. “Labeling our city as 'Ugly Toledo' may be headline-grabbing, but it creates a false perception.”
The Blade‘s special report was titled “The Ugly Truth about Toledo.”
Mayor Collins said a new blight commission is unnecessary.
“At this time, creating an additional governmental arm is unnecessary,” he said. “It would also create additional funding challenges. We face dealing with years of neglect in some neighborhoods, we have a plan in place, and we are moving forward. These efforts along with our version of the Tidy Towns concept, T-Towns, will create an improved value added to our community.”
Mayor Collins laid blame on Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell.
“Toledo has homes that are blighted, as does other urban cities,” the mayor's statement said. “When asked about this by The Blade for their investigative report, the city’s ability to act when it comes to nuisance properties is often times delayed or prevented by the Toledo Municipal Court.”
He said the cases are under the control of the housing court, adjudicated by Judge McConnell.
“Cases have lingered for years with the city unable to force demolition,” the mayor's statement said. “More than 500 affidavits have been filed in Toledo Municipal Court by our code enforcement department in the past 12 months.”
The mayor said a new “constituent driven complaint system” smart phone application to be released later this summer will make it easier for people to report blighted properties by sending in pictures.
There are other legal impediments to cleaning up blight, the mayor said.
“Some nuisance property owners quitclaim properties to family members, friends, or LLC’s to avoid court action,” the statement said. “A breakdown in communication from Lucas County to the city as it relates to changes in deed holder information creates an additional delay. When a nuisance property owner changes the deed, code enforcement must start all over again and having correct contact information concerning the new owners is a must.”
The Collins administration stressed that the Lucas County Land Bank announced last month that in two years, 838 structures were demolished with more than $6.7 million spent.
Mayor Collins said “746 of those structures were city of Toledo demolition projects. More houses have been taken down in the past two years than ever before.”