By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and it seems nowhere is that more accurate than in Toledo. But the latest political infighting could benefit taxpayers.
In a move that certainly isn’t sensitive to those who foot the bill, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell proposed to increase the salary scales for various exempt city employees. He said he wasn’t planning on actually giving raises; he just wanted the salary scale to be comparable to other areas, so he could attract and retain qualified people.
The last update for the pay ranges was in 1998, so he may have a point. But comparing Toledo’s public pay with the public pay in other cities has its own inherent problems, especially when one of those cities is the fiscal disaster of Detroit.
The Toledo City Council wasn’t exactly pleased with the proposal, especially after city unions gave concessions in their last contract, though the council isn’t exactly known for being fiscally conservative with taxpayer dollars. it is supporting a new levy for parks and recreation on the November ballot, because it claims it just doesn’t have enough money for everything it wants — not needs — to do.
At-large Councilman Steve Steel then came up with what I’m sure he thought was a terrific idea. He asked the mayor to promise, via a written pledge, that he wouldn’t accept campaign contributions from any person who would be covered by the new pay ranges.
Steel was quick to point out that there was nothing illegal, but he thought it might result in an appearance of impropriety if people get pay raises and then contribute to the mayor’s re-election efforts. He added that city employees had contributed more than $10,000 to Bell’s campaign committee, both before and after he was elected.
Ohio law forbids state candidates from soliciting and accepting donations from employees of the office sought, but only the soliciting portion applies for candidates of other governmental units, like cities.
Steel is certainly no stranger to conflicts of interest. His wife was a member of the Toledo Federation of Teachers union when he was a member of the Toledo Public School Board, though she did step down from her board position during his term. While it was legal for him to do so, he was challenged on the impropriety of his votes on the TFT contract. He rejected such claims.
Recently, he voted against a charter school yet didn’t seem to think that his wife’s return to the TFT board and the union’s ongoing opposition to charter schools and school choice presented an appearance of conflict.
Bell, taking “The Untouchables” lesson to heart, responded to Steel’s knife fight with an Abrams tank.
He sent the council an ordinance that would prohibit the mayor and the council from soliciting and accepting contributions from employees, members of their immediate families and any union that has a contract with the city.
“I think that goes a little bit overboard,” he told The Blade.
When Steel voted against the charter school, he tried to make the argument that because Toledo zoning rules prohibit a convenience store from locating near a school, a charter school could not be located near a convenience store.
Using a similar tortured logic, Steel’s reaction to Bell’s idea was to question if the council could prohibit people from making contributions.
Bell’s ordinance doesn’t prohibit contributors from making the donations, but it bans the candidates from accepting them. If a contribution was made, the candidate would have to return it.
And that is exactly what Steel’s proposal did — except he applied it only to the mayor and not to himself and his fellow council members.
Steel can’t make that demand of the mayor, but except himself from the same standard. Well, he can, but the hypocrisy is so blatant that even Toledo voters will see it.
As Eliott Ness in “The Untouchables” told Al Capone, “Here endeth the lesson.”