Here we go again! It seems to happen every generation or so that Toledoans change their form of city government. So, it is no surprise that they're talking a lot lately about changing the form of city government in Toledo, Ohio.
I had intended to address this topic yesterday but I was interrupted by unexpected company that did not depart until late in the evening. Then today, to my surprise, was a newspaper article entitled "Politics puts Toledo's charter to the test" that provides a vast amount of the information of which I intended to write. For a while, I thought I should just pass on this subject as an entry into Roland Hansen Commentary. Instead, I have decided to incorporate the newspaper article into this commentary. After all, by reading the article, a person will obtain the history that I had intended to provide.
As the information in the following embedded links will provide, there are basically three forms of municipal government and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Toledo has gone back and forth between mayor-council and council-manager forms of government. The City has had the strong mayor and the weak mayor forms of government. Toledo has had mayors chosen by city council and mayors elected directly by the general electorate with and without appointed city managers. Toledo, Ohio has had city councils chosen at-large, chosen by proportional representation, and chosen by a combination of district and at-large.
In the never-ending quest to secure a responsive government and in a variety of attempts to remove politics from municipal government, Toledo has gone back and forth and back again, time and time again, with various forms of city government.
And yet, Toledoans still have been unable to convince themselves that politics cannot be removed from the governing process. Mayors have blamed council for things not getting done, and so have city managers; and city councils have blamed city managers for things not getting done, and city councils have blamed mayors for things not getting done.
Regardless of the lessons from local history, Toledoans have been unable (or maybe it is unwilling) to retain an institutional memory. They are under the misimpression that politics can indeed be removed. Toledo citizenry puts itself in another catch-22. On one hand, Toledoans want a supposedly non-partisan, non-political, professional CEO that they allege can only be secured by having a city manager. On the other hand, Toledoans want a CEO that is accountable and responsible to the citizens, something that can only come through a CEO who is elected directly by the people, that is a strong mayor. Past experience in Toledo has shown that previous city managers did pretty much what they wanted, and neither the mayor nor the city council would accept responsibility for unpopular managerial actions. To make the politics of city manager accountability even more complicated was the fact that although the mayor nominated and the council confirmed the appointment of the manager, none of the previous mayors or councils were willing to dismiss any of the previous managers. Instead, everyone pointed fingers at everyone else for any problems that may have existed.
It's been approximately 15 years now that Toledo has had a Strong Mayor and a 12- member City Council, consisting of 6 at-large and 6 district members all of whom now serve 4-year terms having replaced the previous two-year terms and with staggered terms separating the at-large from the district council members.
When the incumbent mayor suggested reducing the size of council from 12 to 8, people immediately picked up on that. Folks started pointing the fingers alleging the mayor was being punitive, that the mayor wanted to control council, and that reduction of district seats would dilute the strength of minority representation. Do these people think the present mayor will influence future mayors and councils?
I keep hearing people talking of a four at-large and four district city council membership. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? Why are people only talking of eight and why are people only talking of an at-large and district combination? With an even number of council members, what happens when there is a tie vote? Do folks want those situations go to the mayor? Why not propose an odd number council membership in order to minimize the chances of tie votes. Toledoans are constantly clamoring about constituent services for their neighborhoods. And yet, the only ideas of which I am aware are those suggestions that would decrease the number of district council members.
I have some thoughts of my own. I believe that Toledo, Ohio should go to a 9-member city council, all elected from districts. I believe that Toledo should stay with a strong mayor, but also require an appointed professional City Administrator who is nominated by the Mayor and approved by City Council and who can only be removed by the mayor. I believe that this would result in a more responsible, responsive, and accountable form of municipal government for Toledo, Ohio than what has existed in the past, than what presently exists, and than what is being openly proposed by public leaders and others to exist for the future.