By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Toledo is in the best shape it’s been in for years, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says, and it can get even better if citizens pull together and work at it.
“We have already set the tone for the next century,” the mayor said last night in his State of the City address at the Erie Street Market. “The same energy and teamwork that brought us All-America status will propel us into the next century.”
Among 1998 accomplishments cited by the mayor: thousands of jobs created, stronger neighborhoods, and environmental progress.
Not mentioned in the pep-rally atmosphere: the city’s ultra-tight budget, or the huge cost overruns in the Jeep project.
The speech, delivered to more than 700 people and broadcast live to television and radio audiences, was a feel-good hodge-podge, from the heroism of a firefighter shot in the line of duty to the city’s All-America status.
After being criticized in previous years for making speeches high on self-congratulation and low on substance, Mr. Finkbeiner made several small policy statements. Most were not detailed, but they included:
* Guaranteeing citizens they would receive a response to certain complaints within 72 hours.
* Establishing a set of standards for the maintenance of all city parks.
* Naming a five-member commission to improve the conditions of Toledo cemeteries, and an ad hoc committee aimed at improving minority health care.
Unlike last year’s speech, which was interrupted by applause only twice, the mayor received more than 20 ovations.
He spent several minutes outlining his plans for the downtown, which he called “everyone’s neighborhood.” He touted the upcoming opening of the Valentine Theatre, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library expansion, and the Commodore Perry Apartments.
The biggest challenge for 1999 downtown: a health club.
“A new health club to serve the working population and ever growing numbers of residents must come this year!” he said. “I challenge and encourage downtown business leaders to support our health club.”
The city is negotiating with several health club operators and health care systems to open a fitness facility downtown. City officials have said it must include a swimming pool and other amenities to serve the office workforce.
Some of the biggest applause of the night came when the mayor repeated his plan to build a Toledo Mud Hens stadium in downtown’s warehouse district. Voters rejected a sales tax increase in May that would have funded such a stadium. The team is trying to arrange private funding but wants to put the ballpark on the East Toledo riverfront.
“The stadium belongs in the heart of the city,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “The stadium’s location is a core component of an overall downtown development plan.”
The mayor used a series of props to aid his cause throughout the speech. First was a copy of a special section of Forbes Magazine promoting Toledo and northwest Ohio to corporate leaders. Mr. Finkbeiner said the section was a sign of “a track record recognized across the nation.”
But what the mayor described as a “24-page color article” was not a journalistic effort from the Forbes staff. It was an advertisement paid for by area economic development agencies at a cost of more than $275,000.
Perhaps the mayor’s most noteworthy proposal was the customer service pilot program. Within 72 hours of receiving a citizen complaint in certain departments, a city official will respond, at least to acknowledge the problem.
And if a city service is not performed within a certain time period, the service would be given for free, or the citizen could receive free tickets to attractions like COSI or the Mud Hens.
“I want to put the pressure on our men and women in a fair, professional way, to understand how important it is to be timely in responding to citizens,” he said.
There were few specifics. The mayor has not picked which city functions to target in the pilot program, or how quickly those services would have to provided.
But the idea fit in well with his theme for the evening: “Raising the bar on public service. We’ve got to take things we do, and do them a little bit better every year.”
For the most part, response from city leaders was positive.
“It was a good speech,” said council President Peter Ujvagi. “I think he has a justifiable pride in the accomplishments of the past, and a real love for this city.
“But his 1999 plans were outlined in broad strokes.”