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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2003

Kest may be punch line, not only 1

In line at Toledo Municipal Court the other day, they were kibitzing to pass the time.

Guy No. 1: “So, you get your invitation yet?''

Guy No. 2: “Invitation? No, I didn't get one. Invitation to what?''

“Ray Kest's graduation party,'' chortled No. 1. “Hey, you helped pay for it - you should be there for the party!''

No. 2 paused, then wondered: “Would I have to bring a gift?''

So it goes throughout Lucas County, where the punch line continues to be the name of its embattled treasurer.

Weeks after Ray T. Kest, CPA, was stopped by the Ohio Highway Patrol while behind the wheel of a county car and charged with drunken driving, his saga keeps unfolding like Jacob's Ladder. By now, that whole DUI charge is little more than a political hiccup.

For that matter, no one seemed real surprised by the allegation that Mr. Kest used his taxpayer-supplied Pontiac for personal use.

No, I think when the definitive history titled The Political Career of Ray T. Kest, CPA, is finally written (the deadline for which looks to be sooner than later), it's the word TUITION that will be prominent.

Two years ago, the Lucas County treasurer was in a race for the mayor's office when his personal credit-card debt became an insurmountable obstacle - so big, it trumped the self-proclaimed financial savvy that Mr. Kest relied on as a major campaign asset.

Though the woman who is now Mr. Kest's ex-wife eventually took the very public blame for the family's quintuple-digit debt, Version 1.0 of the blame went to - yup - tuition.

Initially, the treasurer pointed to the cost of his sons' educations at, variously, St. John's High School, Ohio University, Heidelberg College, and Owens Community College. And let's not overlook his daughter's tuition, for classes at a local business college whose name her father couldn't quite recall.

“Many parents are in a similar situation,'' he said in an October, 2001, statement, “where they go the extra mile to assist their family. Any implication that my money-management skills are deficient because of my assistance to my family is erroneous.''

So, if Mr. Kest later found a way to assist his own graduate education on someone else's dime (read: yours), does that mean his “money-management skills'' are vastly improved? And if so, wouldn't that indicate he should be Treasurer For All Times? And how, exactly, is e-t-h-i-x spelled, anyway? And will it be on the test?

Gossiping with another elected county official, this was his conclusion: “You're not supposed to hear anything from a county treasurer. Hell, you're not even supposed to know who the county treasurer is, so obscure and unnoticed should this position be.”

Alas, Ray T. Kest, CPA, remains Toledo's punch line. These days, it's all about Ray.

But, of course, it's not at all just about Ray; he's apparently only a symptom of larger, systemic problems.

The night he got into “his'' government car, lo these many weeks ago, he was unwittingly driving carpool for everyone who draws a paycheck from Lucas County. And by the time the vehicle stopped, it was in a parking lot with a large sign at the entrance that said:

E-Z STREET ENDS HERE. EVERYONE DISEMBARK.



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