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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Konop vows to improve quality of life in Toledo

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Ben Konop, a Lucas County commissioner since 2007 and a Democratic candidate for mayor, says focusing on establishing an educated work force, higher standards of living, and a higher quality of life will attract employers to set up shop in Toledo. 'My focus has been on investing in the people of our community directly as much as possible,' he says. Ben Konop, a Lucas County commissioner since 2007 and a Democratic candidate for mayor, says focusing on establishing an educated work force, higher standards of living, and a higher quality of life will attract employers to set up shop in Toledo. 'My focus has been on investing in the people of our community directly as much as possible,' he says.
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With next week's primary election paring the pack of mayoral candidates to two, The Blade this week will focus on issues each of the five top mayoral hopefuls has advocated during the campaign. Today's story is about Ben Konop.

Democrat mayoral candidate Ben Konop has laid out an elaborate platform that he says will improve the quality of life in Toledo - while leaving the details of the economic future to the market.

Mr. Konop's platform would address low wages, sickness on the job, low-volume waterlines, abandoned housing, police shortage, low college graduation rates, and the difficulty senior citizens have toting their trash to the curb, to name a few of his targets.

A subject on which he hasn't offered a specific road map is planning an industrial or commercial vision that offers the most promise for bring-ing jobs to the area.

He said that's not the government's role - that research has shown cities that invest in an educated work force, higher standards of living, and a high quality of life attract employers.

"What I think government can do is give people the tools they need to succeed, make the city a place worth living, and a place that will attract and retain young people," Mr. Konop recently told the youth business group EPIC, which is affiliated with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"None of us running for mayor have a crystal ball clear enough to see where the jobs are going to be a year from now, let alone a decade from now," he said. "My focus has been on investing in the people of our community directly as much as possible."

Mr. Konop, 33, is a lawyer and part-time University of Toledo law professor and has been an elected member of the Lucas County board of commissioners since January, 2007.

He is running in the nonpartisan primary Tuesday against independents Mike Bell and D. Michael Collins, Republican Jim Moody, and fellow Democrat Keith Wilkowski. The two candidates with the highest number of votes will compete to succeed Mayor Carty Finkbeiner in the Nov. 3 general election.

Mr. Konop's prescription for what ails Toledo starts with "Economic Development From the Ground Up," which he said protects workers' wages, jobs, and safety.

He would seek to put on the ballot, by November, 2010, an initiative for mandatory paid sick days at all Toledo businesses with 25 or more employees. The plan would require six accrued paid sick days a year for employees working 32 or more hours per week, and four days for employees working 20 to 32 hours per week.

Under a Konop administration, more businesses that contract with the city would be required to pay the living wage.

He said he would lead the charge for an Owens Community College satellite campus in downtown Toledo to provide greater access to people living in the central city. Owens offers some classes in the county-owned Source employment center downtown, with 739 students enrolled this fall, spokesman Brad Meyer said.

As a commissioner, Mr. Konop proposed a $70 million Lucas County college scholarship program. As a mayoral candidate, he vows to partner with the University of Toledo and Owens on an outreach effort to promote the need for education and of scholarship and grant opportunities.

Mr. Konop would partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration to give forgivable loans to new businesses in the city if the businesses live up to the promised number of jobs created.

Turning to Toledo's neighborhoods, Mr. Konop would require "greater accountability" by landlords and property owners, as well as step up demolitions and make it easier to sell properties through land-banking.

Owners would have to obtain a rental inspection license, with inspections done by the city at a cost of $50, to be renewed every three years. He would fine owners whose properties require "excessive city services" and "excessive police involvement."

The Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce said mandated sick leave would hurt Toledo's effort to attract jobs.

"Toledo should not set itself up to further lose jobs, and in so doing, its tax base," said Carol Van Sickle, vice president for public affairs. "The burden of this type of mandate will especially be difficult for small business."

Anna Mills, president of the Real Estate Investors of Toledo, said mandated inspections drive up the cost of housing by creating delays and requiring unnecessary changes. "I can't believe in today's economy they'd even think of that," she said.

Dale Butland, a Columbus political consultant who supports mandatory sick leave, said Mr. Konop's proposals are a way of showing voters where he stands on a range of issues.

"If you're in a crowded primary field as he is, you try to distinguish yourself," Mr. Butland said. "I'd be shocked if he was able to implement all these things, but as a way to show where his head and heart is, maybe it's not a bad strategy."

Lloyd Mahaffey, recently retired head of the United Auto Workers Region 2B, said proposals of the kind Mr. Konop has aired would make Toledo a better community.

"Toledo has declined, and lots of approaches have been taken and seem to result in the same outcomes. When you hear the debate, he's the guy that has the more specific approaches to resolving some of these problems," Mr. Mahaffey said.

The UAW has not endorsed in the mayoral race.

Mr. Konop said he would rehire remaining laid-off police officers using the money from the same $6 million pool that would be created by combining city and county government functions.

Mr. Konop also would:

••Establish an information exchange between small businesses and police, including an e-mail alert to reduce check fraud.

••Train civilian city workers, such as refuse collectors, to help spot and report crime.

••Paint hydrants to indicate when they are served by low-volume waterlines and provide waterline maps in all city fire trucks.

••Offer free city assistance to senior citizens to carry trash bins from their garages to the street.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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