Councilman criticizes Bell's no-gifts plan

Toledo Councilman Steve Steel.
Toledo Councilman Steve Steel.

A Toledo Councilman accused Mayor Mike Bell Tuesday night of "one-upmanship" during a light lambasting over a proposed pledge that the mayor refuse to accept campaign contributions from his own employees.

Early last week, the Bell administration submitted legislation to raise the salary ranges for executive employees-- those not covered by unions -- by 18 to 20 percent.

Councilman Steve Steel followed that with a public call to Mr. Bell to pledge to refuse contributions from the employees who report to him and whose salaries he sets. He said there would be an appearance of impropriety if Mr. Bell accepted contributions from his executive staff after giving them raises. Campaign finance records show Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat, who wrote the executive pay-raise legislation and who potentially could benefit with a higher salary, contributed $2,100 to Mr. Bell's campaign in 2011.

Mr. Bell responded quickly last week with a proposed ordinance to council that bars all mayoral and council candidates from accepting contributions from city employees, their family members, and their unions.

None of the issues was resolved Tuesday. Council declined to vote on the mayor's request to increase the pay ranges, and instead, it decided to hold a committee hearing but did not set a date. The mayor's proposed ordinance won't officially come before council until next week.

"A red herring was thrown up," Mr. Steel said of the mayor's response. "This was an attempt of one-upmanship … "

Mr. Bell said he agreed with the proposed pledge Mr. Steel crafted, but that it did not go far enough.

"All I am trying to do is put it all on the same playing field," Mr. Bell said during council's regular meeting. Mr. Bell said that when he was fire chief for the city, he was politically squeezed to contribute to the mayoral campaigns of his previous bosses.

Mr. Herwat said Tuesday that he has never been solicited by Mayor Bell to contribute to his campaign -- which would be against Ohio law.

"Previous mayors or their senior staff directly solicited me on city time for political contributions," Mr. Herwat said. "Mayor Bell has never approached me about giving. I have done it of my own free will … "

He declined to identify which mayors he was referring to other than to say "previous strong mayors," which could mean only Carty Finkbeiner and Jack Ford.

"I found that to be offensive," Mr. Finkbeiner said of the implication he squeezed Mr. Bell and Mr. Herwat for campaign cash. "I never leaned on anybody and I found that the system sometimes allowed members of an administration to feel like that they were under pressure and I didn't like it."

Mr. Ford could not be reached for comment.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: or 419-724-6171.