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Published: Friday, 11/3/2006

Lucas County commissioner rivals argue over 'experience'

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ben Konop, left, makes a point as rival George Sarantou listens during the debate at the McMaster Center downtown. Ben Konop, left, makes a point as rival George Sarantou listens during the debate at the McMaster Center downtown.
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Questions of experience dominated the Lucas County commissioner debate last night, with Democrat Ben Konop and Republican George Sarantou scrapping over each other's resumes and partisan identities.

Mr. Sarantou touted his 24 years as a financial adviser and five-year tenure on Toledo City Council, noting that he voted 3,500 times on legislation during that period.

"My opponent has never made the tough decisions, as to are you going to lay off police and fire or are you going to retain them?" Mr. Sarantou said to the audience gathered at the Main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in downtown Toledo for the debate.

"I obviously don't have 24 years of financial experience," Mr. Konop, a lawyer, later responded. "I would have to have started working at 6 and we have laws against that."

As a lawyer who has taught legislation and election law at universities, Mr. Konop said his legal background would enable him to effectively interpret and implement the Ohio Revised Code as a commissioner.

The Lucas County Republican Party called that statement into doubt Monday by filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission that Mr. Konop did not properly label his mailings. Mr. Konop said the failure to list who paid for the mailings was a one-time oversight.

"A mistake of this magnitude causes one to question what other laws Mr. Konop may overlook or consider inconsequential," said Bob Reichert, chairman of the Lucas County Republicans.

But Mr. Sarantou didn't capitalize on that. It went unmentioned, even as Mr. Konop attacked him for increasing the assessment tax five times as a councilman without a vote of city residents.

When it came to experience, Mr. Sarantou said Mr. Konop's own party controlled local politics and held more blame for the county's economic stagnation than any tax increase needed to pay for basic municipal services.

"The Democratic Party has been in charge of this county and this city for many, many decades," Mr. Sarantou said. "So, is he saying to us that the Democratic majority of all these decades has done a lousy job?"

Despite calling himself a "proud Democrat," Mr. Konop seemed to channel Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, joking that he could stand up to veteran politicians because he lifted weights four times a week.

The Democrat even tore a worn page out of the Republican playbook, promising to reduce taxes.

Mr. Konop wants to pay for property tax cuts by instituting a regional tax across multiple counties to pay for cultural facilities such as COSI or the Toledo Zoo. That would enable the cultural facilities to operate as one entity, Mr. Konop said, allegedly saving money through economies of scale.

The plan actually would be a tax increase for other counties, Mr. Sarantou said, an impossible sell to the region and inappropriate promise to voters.

"Mr. Konop's plan is essentially tax thy neighbor," Mr. Sarantou said. "I can't find anyone in Wood County or Fulton County who is willing to take on the tax burdens of Lucas County."

Mr. Sarantou said a better approach would be to carve out any waste from the annual $138 million county budget and curb inefficiencies by partnering with the city and township governments.

Both candidates agreed on the importance of maintaining county services to treat drug addiction and mental illness.

They differed on whether the public should cover the costs of COSI, one of four county ballot issues in Tuesday's election. Mr. Sarantou opposes the levy to bail out the downtown science museum while Mr. Konop supports it.

The hour-long debate was sponsored by the Toledo Free Press, WSPD-AM (1370), and WUPW-TV, Channel 36.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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