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Published: Tuesday, 6/15/2010

Konop touts Lucas County reform plan to Rotary

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop appealed for business support of his county reform plan in a speech to the Toledo Rotary Club Monday, citing Lucas County's "disturbing" unemployment and poverty rates as evidence of the need for change.

"This is not going to get on the ballot without the support of the business community," Mr. Konop told about 200 members at the civic club's weekly luncheon yesterday at the Park Inn.

He has drafted a proposed county charter that he hopes to get on the Nov. 2 ballot and that he believes would make the county more capable of growing the economy.

"I think this gives us the best opportunity to succeed," he said.

If voters agree, it would scrap most of Lucas County's government lineup of three commissioners and eight row offices. Instead, the county would have one elected county executive and an elected 11-member county council.

The new executive would appoint, with county council approval, people to do what's now done by the elected treasurer, auditor, coroner, clerk of courts, sheriff, recorder, and engineer. Prosecutor and judges would continue to be elected posts.

Mr. Konop's presentation showed Lucas County ranks high in rates of unemployment, poverty, bankruptcy, and migration out of the state and has lower median income than the state overall.

"There is really no shortage of disturbing economic trends to report on for Lucas County," Mr. Konop said.

Lucas County's jobless rate was the highest of Ohio's six largest counties for each of the 12 months ending in April, the most recent period available, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the same time, Lucas County spends a lot of money - about $640 million this year - and has a $222 million investment portfolio.

"That's a huge investment of resources and I think shows that county government reform could really impact significantly our economic focus as a community," Mr. Konop said.

He said the county executive government stresses economic development by allowing county government to speak with one voice and by creating collaboration through a council that includes representatives of the city, the townships, and the other municipalities.

Also, the charter would require the government to coordinate a five-year economic development plan.

John Wasserman, a lawyer and a member of the Waterville plan commission, said, "I thought it was good. The stats that he put up there were pretty eye-opening."

Richard Ruppert, a former president of the former Medical College of Ohio, said Mr. Konop's plan needs more study.

"We need to do it. The time is now, but I'm not ready to buy into the concept of your plan that you presented," Dr. Ruppert said.

Mr. Konop said he wants to let the voters decide whether to buy into his plan.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers union, termed the proposed new county executive a "county czar," as she asked whether the new county government would take over the schools.

Mr. Konop disagreed with the word "czar," saying the system would be more accountable because of its legislature than the current system. He said it would not take over the schools nor replace any other local governments.

But he said a county executive would be a step toward regional government, which he said is the kind of county structure found in communities that are making economic strides.

Under the Ohio Constitution, at least 14,289 voters would have to sign a petition by late July to put the question on the ballot in Lucas County. Mr. Konop said his draft, modeled closely on the charter government just adopted in Cuyahoga County, is open to revision, but the window for such changes will close soon.

He said his speech yesterday was the start of a kind of barnstorming tour of community organizations in hopes of quickly assembling a group to help circulate petitions and promote approval of the question.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.


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