Council to fight for police yet again

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

Tomorrow should bring yet another salvo in the mayor vs. council battle, as council members try again to find a way to force Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to hire 30 police officers this year.

“The law is very clear that we can decide how many police officers work for the city of Toledo,” council President Peter Ujvagi said. “The mayor’s arguments are not substantive.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Finkbeiner has revealed another argument for fewer officers: the extra officers would almost certainly be white and could make the force less racially diverse.

What was once a simple skirmish has become more like a war of attrition. In the city’s budget, Mr. Finkbeiner proposed hiring 15 new officers to replace the 30 to 35 officers expected to retire in 1999.

The mayor said that as the police force continues to replace officers with civilians in desk jobs, more officers will be available for street duty. He considers the extra hires an unnecessary expense.

But during its budget hearings, the council voted unanimously to increase the police class size to 30 officers.

Mr. Finkbeiner called the council’s decision financially irresponsible and used his line-item veto on that section of the budget. Council members unanimously overrode his veto. The mayor has said he will ignore the veto and go ahead with a 15-member class.

The council has countered by citing a section of the city’s charter members claim gives them final authority over the size of the police force.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the council is expected to pass unani mously an ordinance ordering the mayor to have a 30-member class.

In a Friday memo to council members, the mayor took a new tack: “We do not have a class of recruits who meets Chief [Michael] Navarre’s or my standard of diversity beyond 15 at this time,” he wrote.

Of the 70 police officer candidates who have passed a background check, two are African-American. Four are Hispanic, and one is Asian-American. The mayor argues that if the city has a class of 30, it will be more overwhelmingly white than a smaller class.

For more than 22 years, the city was under a federal court order to increase the diversity of its police force. The order was lifted in 1996. “We worked long and hard to get out of a court order, and it is not my desire, nor yours I would think, to once again revisit that situation,” the mayor wrote.

Currently, the city’s uniformed officer group is 19 per cent black, 7 per cent Hispanic, and 1 per cent other non-white. That’s close to the city’s population at large, which is 19 per cent black, 4 per cent Hispanic, and 1 per cent other non-white.

But in making his case, Mr. Finkbeiner has contradicted an earlier opinion he made in 1996, when the court order was lifted by U.S. District Judge David Katz.

At the time, the mayor said the end of the court jurisdiction would mean the city wouldn’t have to pay as much attention to the racial composition of any one police class. He noted it could make up for having relatively few minorities in one class by boosting representation in the next class.

Despite the mayor’s concern, even if the city hired an all-white, 30-member police class, African-Americans would still make up 18.2 per cent of the force.

Council members don’t expect Mr. Finkbeiner to change his mind and figure they’ll have to override his veto at its April 27 meeting. It’s not clear what would happen next if the mayor doesn’t concede.

Council members have said they will consider taking legal action against the mayor. Mr. Ujvagi declined to discuss any options.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the council also will consider:

* Several pieces of legislation to approve tax abatements for the Docks in International Park.

The Docks development will bring four more restaurants to a city-owned building in International Park. The restaurants – Hoster’s Brew Pub, Zia’s Italian, Shorty’s Chophouse, and The Real Seafood Co., along with an upscale banquet facility called Courtyard at the Navy – are to begin opening by mid-summer. They will join the Navy Bistro, which opened in 1997 and has become one of Tole do’s most popular restaurants.

The ordinances before council would grant the new facilities tax abatements totaling about $148,000 over 10 years. Officials estimate the new income tax revenue over the 10 years by the restaurants will total more than $760,000.

Development Director Barry Broome said he projects the new restaurants will draw 1.2 million people to the Docks annually – a total that would dwarf even very successful developments like the Center of Science and Industry.

* A series of ordinances to provide the final major financing to the Jeep project. The money will come from a variety of sources, including the city’s economic development agreement with Toledo Edison and the sale of some of the city’s land in Monclova Township. The council is expected to refer the Jeep ordinances to a committee for a public hearing.

* Approving a zoning change to allow a Walgreens drugstore to open at Dorr Street and Reynolds Road. Mr. Finkbeiner opposes the change because the Walgreens would be the fourth drugstore at the intersection. Councilman Rob Ludeman has objected as well.