It’s a safe bet that the proposed Lucas County reorganization didn’t start out with many yes votes among the crowd who turned out Tuesday night for the first public hearing on the proposed county charter.
Whether any minds were swayed wasn’t immediately clear, and the skeptical reaction revealed the magnitude of the job facing the volunteer group that has set out to remake Lucas County government.
The Lucas County Citizen Review volunteers who are backing a charter question to go on the ballot in Lucas County in 2012 held their first public hearing at Sanger Branch Library in West Toledo. More meetings are expected to be held, but none has yet been scheduled.
“This looks so very similar to the city manager form of government, which was created to take the people’s vote away from us,” said Jay Phillips, of Toledo. “You’ve done lots of work. I think you’ve done a great job, I guess, but we really didn’t need it.”
The study committee members repeatedly pointed out that the county executive would be elected by county voters, as would the county council.
Another questioner characterized the proposed county executive as “a dictator with a private police force.”
Others took issue with the race and gender makeup of the study committee.
The Lucas County Citizen Review Study Committee, made up largely of people with a background in government, education, or business, conducted a nine-month-long study of the advantages of adopting a county charter. The group’s report, complete with a ballot question, was released in June under the title, “Better Government, Better Future, Better Jobs.”
Jeff Bunck, a retired Anthony Wayne High School teacher and member of the study committee, moderated the hour-long forum, which attracted about 60 people, including about a dozen of the study committee volunteers.
Mr. Bunck, along with Olivia Summons, a co-chair of the Citizen Review, welcomed the comments and questions, and emphasized that the effort was a volunteer one that was not controlled by any other entity.
Mr. Bunck said the plan is to continue holding public meetings through this fall. The group plans to begin in January collecting signatures on a petition to put the proposed charter on the November, 2012 ballot. The goal is to finish collecting signatures by about May and spend the rest of the year until the election in campaigning for the ballot question’s passage, he said.
The proposal would abolish Lucas County’s Board of Commissioners and most other elected administrative offices, to be replaced by the elected executive and elected council. The only currently elected county official — other than judges — who would continue to be elected would be the prosecutor, to preserve independence, Mr. Bunck said.
The county council would have six members elected from districts and three elected at large.
A common criticism at Tuesday night’s meeting was that voters of Lucas County would lose control over their county government, especially the office of sheriff.
“You people are trying to usurp my vote and get in a king that’s going to appoint the sheriff. He’s going to appoint this one. He’s going to appoint that one. I want to vote for the sheriff. I want to vote for these people,” said Joyce Coffey, of Springfield Township.
Tom Killam, a lawyer and co-chair of the ongoing Citizen Review oversight committee, noted the impending loss of 700 jobs caused by BAX Global’s decision to close its air freight operation at Toledo Express Airport.
“We need to do something to help ourselves because nobody is going to help us except ourselves. Government’s purpose is to facilitate job creation. And it should lead the way and that’s what this is about,” Mr. Killam said.
Jim Herrick, of Toledo, predicted that the Democratic Party and the labor unions would control the new county government.
“They’re going to get their person in and their person is going to be the sheriff and their person is going to be the coroner, so they can go and do what they want to do,” Mr. Herrick said.
Andre Washington, a union member and executive board member of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP, disagreed with Mr. Herrick.
“The unions do not run this town,” said Mr. Washington, to hoots of laughter from others in the audience.
Toledoan Nate Kuehnl said the change would actually result in more political balance than at present, since all 11 of the elected county administrative officers are Democrats.
The committee did not promise that the reorganization would save money, because they did not do an efficiency analysis.
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