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Published: Sunday, 11/17/2002

A little too defensive

While it may not be necessary for local attorney Tim Greenwood to quit his day job, it may be in the best interest of the public if he relinquished his appointed duties as chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission. Mr. Greenwood seems increasingly better suited to private practice than public service and its accompanying demands for public accountability.

The former Republican lawmaker from the Toledo area never attempted to mask his disdain for the Ohio Ethics Commission after it exposed the turnpike's time-honored, pervasive practice of accepting gratuities from firms doing or seeking business with the commission.

He and former Executive Director Gino Zomparelli - who had the good grace to resign after the ethics flap - were none too cooperative with the state investigation from the start. They both resented any outside interference in their exclusive, 241-mile toll road fiefdom.

After the Ethics Commission documented 170 instances of high-ranking turnpike employees accepting myriad gifts from turnpike contractors, including class accommodations at sporting events and free golf outings, Chairman Greenwood's response was more defensive than apologetic.

Instead of reeling from the sheer scope of inappropriate commission behavior revealed by the Ohio inspector general, Mr. Greenwood seemed to dismiss the ethics report as much ado about nothing. Publicly he said he had no problem with some gratuities exchanging hands between contractors and commission employees.

During commission meetings Mr. Greenwood also appeared to undermine the seriousness of the inspector general's summary with pointed swipes at its account of the commission's cozy relationship with agency contractors. But in a particularly grating affront to public sensibilities, Chairman Greenwood appeared to mock the turnpike's own, newly adopted ethics policy.

The policy prohibits turnpike employees from accepting anything of value from companies doing business with the pike, but does not set a dollar figure.

Yet instead of signaling the importance of the policy to commission members and turnpike employees, Chairman Greenwood derided its ambiguities. “I'm not sure I would ask anyone to quote, understand the policy. It may be a virtual impossibility.”

So much for leadership from the top at the Ohio Turnpike Commission. So much for the commission's rescinded “zero tolerance” policy adopted on the heels of the ethics scandal. So much for public reassurance that a public agency - no matter how autonomously it functions - has gotten the message about the impropriety of accepting freebies from those cultivating business with it.

Mr. Greenwood not only failed to strongly reject the disclosed culture of gratuity acceptance at the Turnpike Commission, he missed the opportunity to engineer a forceful resolution of the problem.



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