State of the City
The highlights you won’t hear
As we go to press, Hizzoner Mike Bell Bottoms is regaling cronies, supporters and sycophants with his annual “State of the City” address. Here’s our projected recap of the heart of his message.
“Jobs… development…jobs…city workers…city services… neighborhoods…still a bit more we have to do.” And then he’ll most likely use the speech touting his administration’s successes to springboard his re-election campaign. Not so fast, Mikey P. First we’d like to take a healthy Hildo look into the devil behind the details of your warm and fuzzy stump musings.
It’s the economy, stupid
First let’s look at the record on economic development and job creation. Chrysler has several expansions in the works at Jeep, and GM is building a novel transmission at PowerTrain. None of which has anything to do with the current administration. On the other hand, the highlight of Mikey’s first thousand or so days has been his frequent dashes across the Pacific courting investment from folks like, well, Dashing Pacific, who purchased The Docks and a large chunk of the so-called Marina District. The former has struggled and the latter sits a heap of slowly eroding subsoil with no plan in sight.
Over in South Toledo, something’s sprouting at Southwyck. Mostly tall weeds, as Bell’s announced agreement to turn the sprawling former mall site into a sports and recreation complex fell apart like a house of cards within hours of the announcement. Downtown, investors looking to turn the stately but crumbling Berdan Building into housing and retail were promised city assistance in securing federal loans for financing. The Berdan is in the heart of a rejuvenating area and sits across from the main gates of Fifth Third Field, a perfect location for redevelopment.
Except that the federal loan program in question had already been overstretched and was therefore not available for its intended use. The deal fell apart like a house of you-know-what. After wiping some egg from his face, Vice-Mayor of Development Tom Crothers was disgraced and demoted, to a cushy job in public utilities where he could ostensibly do less damage while still making a hefty wage on the public dime. Turning to employee relations: candidate Bell lured some labor endorsements from then-Dem challenger Keith Wilkowski based on his labor background as a Toledo firefighter. Staying close to his public employee roots, Bell promptly bit the hand that fed him by taking Guvnah John Kasich’s side in the fight over SB 5, which would have outlawed public employees’ unions. This after he had unilaterally annulled duly bargained contracts with city employees.
On the other hand, relations with some employees have remained rosy, namely with the top executives who received pay raises from the generous Mikey P.
Where the buck stops
Repeated attacks on employee rights have had little effect on city services, though. Especially since some vital services no longer employ city workers. Refuse collection is now in the hands of private hauler Republic Services. Who has promptly raised the rates charged to the city for that formerly public service. Water and sewer service continues to limp along on deteriorating infrastructure, prompting Hizzoner to propose skyrocketing rates on city rate payers.
Then there’s street sweeping. That’s where the services have taken on a luxury level because Hizzoner used funds supposedly designated to purchase equipment for street sweeping and instead purchased a luxury SUV decked out with custom floor mats and ground effects. Sweepin’ T-Town streets in style!
The foundation of future success for T-Town is the strength of city neighborhoods. Thus the importance of the city department tasked with overseeing millions in federal funds intended for neighborhood stabilization and development.
The DON (Department of Neighborhoods) has had a rough ride these last few years. First it came to light that Hizzoner’s niece, who had worked for his election campaign, was made a partner in a new construction firm that promptly won City contracts. Never mind that she had no construction experience. At least she didn’t have large deliveries of marijuana sent to her job sites, as another City contractor reportedly did. These and other contractual anomalies led to the dismissal of the top DON brass. Even as federal agencies conducted behind the scenes investigations, things seemed to calm a bit as new DON leadership pledged to more carefully monitor third party partners. Then they decided to contract with a third party to administer federal funds targeting homelessness. Chaos has predictably ensued.
Yep, it’s been a fun three years. Here’s to good luck in your anticipated re-election campaign, Mikey. And to voters with really short memories.