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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

Group may revise plan for Lucas County overhaul

Shift in government gets cool reception

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The volunteer group that aims to overhaul and transform Lucas County government will head back to the drawing board to retool its presentation before its next public meetings, after facing an unsupportive audience Tuesday night.

The Lucas County Citizen Review, which is proposing a ballot question to convert Lucas County to a county executive-county council form of government, ran into a wall of skepticism and suspicion after giving a brief slide show and then holding a question-answer session for its first public meeting.

The co-chairman of the effort, Olivia Summons, said the group will hold one or two more public meetings this fall while trying to put together a leadership committee to go to the next phase -- collecting more than 14,000 voter signatures to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.

"We've got to re-tool the slides. We need to look at what information we have and how we present it. This is the first of these meetings and we've learned from it. The whole purpose is to educate the community and have an exchange of dialogue," Ms. Summons said.

Audience members who came to Sanger Branch Library questioned the need for the reorganization and the lack of racial and gender balance on the volunteer study panel.

Several said they don't want to give up the right to elect the sheriff.

James Herrick, one of the audience members, said he learned about the public meeting when he saw it talked about on two local public affairs television shows on Sunday.

He was critical of the presentation, as well as the content, and said the Citizen Review should have been prepared to give audience members a printed description of the plan instead of relying on a brief projector presentation and a Web site.

"I think they were very vague. They were very unprepared to answer a lot of the questions. It seems to me all these people knew each other. It sounds like a little game they're playing," said Mr. Herrick, 61, of Toledo.

He said he liked the idea of combining the duties of auditor, recorder, and treasurer into a single chief financial officer and said maybe it could be done other than by creating a county executive form of government.

"I don't see it going anywhere, I really don't. As that one lady said in the audience you're taking people's votes away," Mr. Herrick said.

Ms. Summons said the charter plan could change if there's a strong demand from the community.

"We've always said from the beginning that if we did begin to pick up a consensus from citizens that we would bring the study committee together again and re-look at parts of the charter. We've always said that from the beginning, but it's got to be a good representative sampling from the community," she said.

She said one or two such meetings are planned for the fall.

Stan Odesky, a member of the study committee, said "some of that stuff has to be better explained up front.

"Clearly this concern about not being able to vote for all these folks requires clarification and better explanation," said Mr. Odesky, a professional political pollster.

He said a revision of the proposed charter is not out of the question.

"It's always been the general feeling that while we had some good people working on it clearly there are other opinions and directions. My impression of things is there is room for modifications. This is not the only cast-in-bronze approach to the world," Mr. Odesky said.

The Citizen Review was initiated by Ms. Summons and Toledo lawyer Tom Killam last year in the wake of a failed attempt by former Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop to get a nearly identical county reorganization plan on the 2010 ballot.

The group -- entirely volunteer and unpaid -- formed a study committee that released its recommended charter in June, after nine months of work.

The plan is to abolish the elected positions of auditor, board of commissioners, clerk of courts, coroner, engineer, recorder, sheriff, and treasurer. Only the prosecutor, of all the current elected row officers, would continue to be elected.

In their place, the charter would establish a government to be overseen by an elected county executive and an elected nine-member county council. Additionally, the charter would give county residents more control over county government, which is now controlled by state laws.

Only two other counties in Ohio have a charter government -- Summit and Cuyahoga.

The group attracted institutional support from businesses around the county, raising more than $35,000 to fund its study.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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