IT'S becoming increasingly clear that the City of Toledo may not yet know the extent of the damage done by former city councilman Bob McCloskey's greed and illegal behavior.
Even though McCloskey accepted guilt this week in both federal and state courts on charges of bribery, the fallout is far from over. Still looming on the horizon is the dark cloud of a civil lawsuit brought by the developer from which McCloskey tried to pry $100,000.
Toledo officials say they do not believe the City will be held liable in the $10 million lawsuit of EJS Properties LLC, but what if they're wrong? What if a jury verdict or out-of-court settlement of the suit requires a massive payment by the City?
EJS Properties claims that City Council rejected its rezoning application in 2002 because of McCloskey's improper demand of $100,000, which he has maintained he wanted for a prescription drug fund for retirees of Pilkington plc.
Acting City Law Director John Madigan intends to build a defense around a contention that when McCloskey acted outside the scope of his authority - and shaking down a zoning applicant would seem beyond the scope of any public official's authority - he wasn't representing the City any more and therefore his conduct does not leave the City liable.
But it was McCloskey's status as an elected councilman that put him in a position to bribe EJS in the first place.
Even if EJS were to fail to win the entire $10 million sought, even if an out-of-court settlement meant a payment of half that, it would still be a severe financial hit.
The City does maintain a risk management fund, which amounts to self-insurance, but it contains just a little over $3 million. Guess where the rest would come from - the City's general fund.
The general fund pays for the most basic services, including police and fire protection. Wouldn't it be ironic if one councilman's criminal conduct compromised the City's ability to provide them?
And what if the city loses the suit, or settles, and the contingency fund is wiped out? How would other more routine contingencies be met? These are all dollars from the same taxpayers' pot.
If McCloskey's sentencing cannot wait for a resolution of the suit, when its cost is known, Judge James Bates should ponder the potential harm and hand down a jail term much harsher than the modest sentence currently contemplated.
If the financial cost is as yet incalculable, so is the blow to the public's ability to trust their elected officials.
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