Drama Returns to City Hall

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

Where there is money there is fighting.
– Marian Anderson

The tension at last week’s disputatious Toledo City Council meeting revealed the classic power struggle that often ensues when the legislative branch of municipal government independently proposes and passes legislation.

In late January, Councilwoman Cecelia Adams, PhD, proposed creating a new Department of Parks, Recreation, Youth Services, and Educational Engagement. The ordinance was passed March 2 with the mayor’s support by a 9-3 vote. Then, on March 10, the mayor suddenly backtracked and vetoed the legislation. The veto ruffled feathers in the Black community and set the stage for last week’s contentious vote to override it.
What caused Kapszukiewicz to veto the legislation after earlier supporting it?
While the mayor insisted that the Adams legislation violated the City Charter, I do know that “People sho’ get funny when they get a little money.”
Some point to the sweeping federal American Rescue Plan for the mayor’s about-face. The $1.9 trillion relief package recently passed by Congress will send $190 million to the City of Toledo which, when added to the City’s $70 rainy day fund, will leave the Kapszukiewicz administration flush with cash.
After lobbying from former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, the NAACP and other community leaders, the mayor came to last week’s council meeting apologetic for a “three-week-long miscommunication between city council and the administration and my staff.” He also brought with him a $30 million dollar incentive to “invest in youth mentoring and large-scale summer work programs” if the legislation is sent to committee instead of voting on the veto.

However, Dr. Adams, who called the offer “disingenuous” and possibly insufficient, was not trying to hear that. “It bothers me,” she said, “because no one in administration including [Kapszukiewicz] was anywhere talking to us as a body when the ordinance was introduced in January; when the ordinance was discussed during first reading; when the ordinance was discussed during second reading; when the ordinance was discussed during the third reading; and when the ordinance was discussed during the hearing, where nobody from the administration showed up. Council has already spoken on this matter and … I don’t think it is proper for us to give permission or relinquish our power to anyone or anything to take away the fact that the legislative branch can legislate and we did… There was no miscommunication; there is no confusion here, we’ve had plenty of time to study this and today is the day we’ve been forced and put into a position where we now have to vote again for something we already approved.”

Adams’ veto override effort failed when earlier supporters – Councilwomen Vanice Williams and Tiffany Preston-Whitman joined Councilman Sam Melden – each reversed course and supported Williams’ motion to send the proposal to committee, essentially upholding the Kapszukiewicz maneuver.

What latent truths does this factious council meeting reveal about the current iteration of Toledo’s executive and legislative branches of government?

1. Who controls City Council?

Carty Finkbeiner, the NAACP, and others had the mayor’s attention and lobbied the mayor to ward off a vote on the veto lest it causes a racial divide. However, it is clear from other behind-the-scenes maneuverings that Council President Matt Cherry and the mayor have future aspirations which are tied to each other. It’s rumored that Cherry’s next move is to become mayor, while Kapszukiewicz has his sights set on replacing Marcy Kaptur in Congress. The two will always act in their best political interests. Using their collaborative political might they ensured that the veto was sustained.

2. How to handle legal disputes between the executive and legislative branches?

City Law Director Dale Emch represents both the mayor and city council. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? If not, it should be. Emch wrote a short, one-page opinion concluding that Adams’ proposal violated the City Charter, a contention that other high-level legal experts disputed. City council needs its own legal counsel and should not rely on the mayor’s legal counsel in disputes like this.

3. Where has the Black Voting Bloc gone?

All five Black councilmembers supported Adams’ original proposal for the new Department of Parks, Recreation, Youth Services, and Educational Engagement. However, the seasoned former high-level public school administrator was only able to retain three of the five votes, causing her effort to override the mayor’s veto to fail.

Councilwoman Vanice Williams’ relatively quick motion to send the proposal to committee seemed to smack of back-room dealing and abandonment to Adams, who testily replied: “I really resent the fact that the inexperience and lack of knowledge about process is being pounced upon with the new people of council who are being taken advantage of, in my opinion, and I wish that that were not the case, and if it is it’s unfortunate. But I do know one thing is for sure, the very same people who were as adamant about it on March 2nd need to be as adamant about it today!”

4. Show Me the Money

Toledo is a political tale of two cities. One group of residents is adamant about receiving funding to get their streets paved, snow removed, and downtown bricks and mortar built. The other group, less privileged, needs funds to address their disparate social and economic situation. The latter typically gets only the crumbs that have trickled down, if any, after priorities have been met for the more advantaged group.

The question is Has anything changed?

The truth is that “Everybody and their mother have been positioning themselves to get a chunk of the federal funds allocated for Toledo.” Privately, $40 million was offered to create the new youth department. Then it was reduced to $30 million. How much, if any, funding will ultimately reach Black and Brown people, children, entrepreneurs, and social service providers?

The administration needs to allocate these funds to maximally impact the community and the people of color who need it most. We will be watching.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org