The classic definition of chutzpah is the tale of the youth who killed his parents and begged the court for mercy because he was an orphan. A more real, recent, and local — if less violent — example comes from former Toledo City Council member Bob McCloskey, who wants the current council to use public money to pay his $92,000 legal bill related to a corruption case that sent him to prison.
Some council members say they have no choice but to honor an agreement the city made with McCloskey’s lawyer nearly a decade ago. If that’s so, they should keep this matter in mind the next time they’re asked to rubber-stamp a similarly bad deal.
In 2002, a council committee approved a zoning change sought by a development company that planned to buy industrial land in East Toledo from Pilkington PLC and establish a charter school on the site. A month later, the full council rejected the zoning application.
In 2006, McCloskey pleaded no contest to a charge that he had solicited a $100,000 bribe from Pilkington — in the guise of a fund to defray drug costs for retired employees of the company, where he had once worked — in exchange for his vote for the rezoning. The bribe was not paid, but he served 20 months in federal prison on that and other charges before his release in 2008.
The city did not pay for McCloskey’s criminal defense. But it agreed in 2004 to hire an outside law firm to represent McCloskey in a related $10 million civil suit brought by the developer against him and the city over council’s denial of the zoning change.
The developer claimed McCloskey influenced his council colleagues to oppose the change when he did not get the payment he sought — an assertion the city denied. Former council president Louis Escobar suggested in a sworn deposition in 2007 that some council members and other city officials knew of McCloskey’s bribe scheme, but did not report or prevent it.
The city stopped paying McCloskey’s legal fees in the civil case in 2006. But the law firm continued to handle his case, kept the tab running, and said it could seek repayment later. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the developer’s appeal of a lower-court dismissal of the case, ending the litigation.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is running for mayor, called the agreement to pay McCloskey’s legal fees “a very expensive lesson.” Taxpayers need to know that council members have learned that lesson, and will be more careful about committing public funds if a similarly sorry transaction arises in the future.
And Toledo voters can help reinforce that lesson, this year and thereafter, by paying adequate attention to the people they elect to City Council.