Leaders from Toledo and the eight communities that buy its water will consider an offer by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce to find and pay for a consultant they hope will bring consensus to the long-debated push toward forming a regional water authority.
Representatives from Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, the Northwestern Water and Sewer District, Whitehouse, and Monroe County voted Wednesday to send four representatives from the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ regional water committee to meet with a chamber representative to further discuss its proposal.
Those under consideration:
■ Eric Rothstein, consultant with Galardi Rothstein Group based in Chicago, recommended by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.
■ Sandra Simon, career coach with Toledo Public Schools, recommended by Lucas County.
■ Christie Angel, director of government relations and public affairs with Calfee Strategic Solutions based in Columbus, recommended by Toledo.
■ Steven Collier, lawyer with Connelly & Collier LLP based in Toledo, recommended by Toledo.
■ Steven Edelson, founder of International Facilities Group Development Group based in Chicago, recommended by Toledo.
■ Mark Wachter, lawyer with Wachter Kurant LLC based in Cleveland, recommended by Toledo.
■ Sarah Cole, law professor at Ohio State University based in Columbus, recommended by Northwood.
■ Joseph Stulberg, chairman in alternative dispute resolution at Ohio State University based in Columbus, recommended by Northwood.
■ Kevyn Orr, lawyer at Jones Day and former emergency manager of Detroit, based in Washington, recommended by Northwood.
■ Albers & Albers, law firm based in Columbus, offered up its services.
The committee for months has been debating how to equalize water rates and give each community a fair say in how the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, owned by the city of Toledo, is managed. Safety and redundancy has also been part of the discussions in light of a three-day period in 2014 when toxic algae made the water undrinkable.
WHERE TO WATCH WATER DEBATE: Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough will take questions and discuss the issue at 1 p.m. today. It will be streamed live on www.toledoblade.com. It also will be recorded and replayed on community channel 69 on Buckeye Broadband at 9 p.m. today.
Wednesday’s vote comes on the heels of a chamber proposal to recruit and pay for consultant Eric Rothstein to move the committee toward a deal on how to establish a regional water district under state law. Mr. Rothstein advised the 2016 formation of the Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit.
The offer would mean the TMACOG committee would not have to use ratepayer funds for a consultant, but Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken voiced concerns that chamber officials will want more control over the decision-making process than he’s comfortable with.
“I’m a little nervous. Just telling it like it is, you guys are not a third-party neutral body. You’re a chamber for a reason, to advance your members’ goals,” Mr. Gerken said. “For me it’s very important that the elected bodies that represent the rate-paying communities select the facilitator.”
Chamber President Wendy Gramza countered that she is advocating for a public-private partnership. “While we don’t want to drive and control the entire process, we do want to be part of it,” she said.
Chamber officials added Mr. Rothstein could begin work as soon as May 1, and the process would take 8 to 10 months. They did not provide a firm cost for the facilitator’s services but said it would be less than $100,000, paid for with chamber foundation funds.
Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson at last month’s regional water meeting advocated for bringing in a “third-party neutral” to help Toledo and its suburban customers reach a deal to govern a regional water district. Ms. Hicks-Hudson indicated Wednesday she is open to the chamber’s plan.
“To me the larger and most important issue is that we get it right, because we only have one time to do this,” she said.
Maumee Mayor Richard Carr pushed the committee to accept the chamber’s offer. He said no elected official would give up any decision-making power by agreeing to use a mediator.
“I would make a motion that we sit down with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, work out the parameters to make sure that there’s not any concern by committee members that they’re not trying to exert more control than what we are comfortable with,” Mayor Carr said. “And if we can do that we accept their offer and we proceed.”
Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough, who chairs the TMACOG committee, along with Mayor Hudson, Mr. Gerken, and Monroe County Drain Commissioner David Thompson will meet April 13 with a chamber representative to discuss their preferred candidate and nine others submitted by the committee.
BLADE BRIEFING: Sarah Elms on the regional water authority talks
If all parties can agree on a facilitator, the chamber will foot the bill. If not, the committee will split the cost by each municipality’s water consumption percentage.
The full TMACOG regional water committee must approve the small group’s recommendation. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for April 27.
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