Mayor-elect Wade Kapszukiewicz held his first transition round-table Wednesday, urging local business leaders to keep telling his incoming administration what needs to be done.
About 50 local business entrepreneurs and some Toledo council members were invited to discuss economic development.
The two-hour gathering started at 7:30 a.m. in the basement cafe of the Shumaker Loop & Kendrick law firm’s building downtown and featured small-group discussions and large Post-it notes on the wall.
One group got the meeting going by saying Toledo needs more building inspectors — or better coordination between existing inspectors.
Corey Beaubien, business manager for the the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 33, was the spokesman for the group that said the new mayor needs to add staff to the building inspection department.
Robert Ruiz, of Eidi Properties, said the problem may not be one of staffing size.
“In the inspection process there’s a lot of miscommunication. Whether that’s solved with an increase in manpower, I don’t know. Maybe it’s improving the knowledge of the existing staff,” he said.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz has vowed to increase cross-certification — the ability of inspectors to sign off on multiple specialties, such as carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning. He has also promised to merge the city and county building inspection offices, a goal he said was affirmed by what he heard Wednesday morning.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz said one message that came through to him was that the city’s building-inspection office is “broken.”
Mr. Beaubien also said the group was disheartened by a segment on television that, as a comedy bit, suggested Toledo as a target for North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
“Of all the cities in America they picked Toledo. That was kind of embarrassing,” Mr. Beaubien said.
Daily Show host Trevor Noah last week said Toledo was America’s “favorite and most important city,” rather than New York, where he lives.
Peter Silverman, a lawyer with Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, which hosted the meeting, urged Mr. Kapszukiewicz to travel the world to attract development the way Mayor Mike Bell did, even though he said Mr. Bell was unfairly attacked for it.
“You should be there. You shouldn’t worry about the criticism. You should do what Mike Bell did,” Mr. Silverman said.
Several business leaders said Toledo needs a strategic plan to promote downtown living communities, or that Toledo lacks “definition” in appearance.
Amy Hall, president of the Ebony Construction contracting firm, cited design standards in Arizona where buildings maintain a consistent look that fits with its desert surroundings.
“There has to be a shared vision for us. Here, you don’t have a sense of identity, of a community’s look and feel. It’s kind of hodge-podgy,” Ms. Hall said.
Derick Gant, a financial consultant, recommended the practice that he said everyone now confronts in the private sector, of having to make contact by way of an email or contact message rather than a telephone call.
“To better facilitate customer service it forces the customer to quantify and qualify exactly what they want, versus calling to vent,” Mr. Gant said.
The group also heard from Toledo City Councilman Yvonne Harper, who supported the incumbent mayor, Paula Hicks-Hudson, and praised the usefulness of the “call city hall” program that Ms. Hicks-Hudson calls “Engage Toledo.” Ms. Harper estimated she has used the program 1,000 times to lodge constituent complaints and then follow them up.
“I came because I want to see what’s going to happen. I have to work with this administration,” Ms. Harper said.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz pronounced the meeting “fantastic.”
“It was a diverse group, a wonderful group, and an important part of what I’m trying to accomplish is this. I need this sort of feedback. These meetings demonstrate to the public that we need their input,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
He told the business leaders, “Democracy works better when there are people kicking us in the rear. We need more motivated citizens because motivated citizens get results.”
The group was facilitated by Chrys Peterson, a former local television news anchor who told her audience, “You are the movers and the shakers. If something happens to this building while you are all here, the city of Toledo’s in trouble.”
The economic development conference was the first of four meetings organized to help Mr. Kapszukiewicz put his new administration together. He takes office Jan. 2 and has not yet named top members of the incoming administration.
Subject areas to be addressed in upcoming meetings are Neighborhoods and Safety; Education, Kids and Family; and Life in Toledo: Parks & Environment.
The times and dates are Education, Kids and Family, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at United Way, 424 Jackson St.; Neighborhoods and Safety, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, at Frederick Douglas Community Center, 1001 Indiana Ave.; and Life in Toledo, Dec. 18, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at United Way.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he plans to announce most of his administration staffing by Dec. 21. The list may include a chief of staff but probably not directors of finance and economic development, for which the incoming administration is conducting a national search, he said.
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