Monday, May 21, 2018
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Drive-by patronage

NOT so long ago, Democratic and Republican fat-cats acted like feudal princes, doling out public jobs and government contracts as rewards for loyal service by political hacks. Those days are supposed to be over. Apparently, some local politicians haven't gotten the message.

For an embarrassment of years, it has been the practice of the Lucas County sheriff to use outside contractors to do drive-by appraisals of foreclosed properties before sheriff's sales. Not by accident, many of those chosen to do the appraisals have been well-connected politically.

Seven years ago, a Blade story revealed how this blatant misuse of power put thousands of dollars into the pockets of people such as Marshall Isenberg, former husband of Sandy Isenberg, then-president of Lucas County Board of Commissioners; Dennis Isenberg, the Isenbergs' son, and Domenic Montalto, a Democratic Party functionary.

At the time, we called on Sheriff James Telb and the county commissioners to end the cronyism, suggesting appraisals could be more economically conducted by the county auditor.

Since then, not even the names of those who benefit most from this patronage have changed. What is different are the stakes. In 1999, 10 appraisers for sheriff's sales were paid less than $57,000. In 2008, nine appraisers were paid $459,148, an eight-fold increase fueled by the current foreclosure crisis.

In 1999, Dennis Isenberg led all appraisers, earning $12,765. In 2008, he made more than $150,000 doing appraisals for Sheriff Telb, and he's already topped six figures this year as well.

Mr. Montalto, who was paid almost $94,000 for appraisals in 2008, is an 81-year-old political dirty trickster who for years was joined at the hip with disgraced former county Treasurer Ray Kest. Mr. Montalto resigned as the county Democratic Party's executive director two years ago to escape the heat of a scandal involving a stripper at a party golf fund-raiser.

Party insiders growing rich off sheriff's appraisals when the county could do the job in-house is a shameful example of political hackdom at its worst, but the public is catching on to patronage's sinister influence on government. Just last month, Toledo voters rejected mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski, seen as part of the old Democratic order, in favor of Mike Bell, who was widely viewed as being free of political IOUs.

We reject Tina Skeldon Wozniak's latest attempt to smear fellow Commissioner Ben Konop because he is a cousin of the Isenbergs. When it comes to being "guilty by relative," Ms. Wozniak, who stonewalled attempts to remove her cousin, Tom Skeldon, as dog warden, is the one who has the real explaining to do.

Sheriff Telb's plan to train deputies as appraisers is a waste of time and money that will be seen as a vain attempt to maintain personal control over these lucrative jobs at the county expense. The auditor's office already has trained personnel and needs only a change in Common Pleas Court rules to be able to take on the job.

Voters have shown that they're willing to buck party bosses to get fiscally responsible government without the taint of patronage. Officeholders should take notice.

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