Steven Steel knows he meets Toledo City Council’s qualifications for a chief of staff — he wrote the job description.
It was an unconventional step in a hiring process that council President Matt Cherry has since put on hold after several of his colleagues expressed reservations about the way Mr. Steel was tapped for a newly created, taxpayer-funded post that’s slated to pay roughly $78,000 annually.
Emails obtained by The Blade through a public records request show Councilman Peter Ujvagi, in particular, voiced concerns that the full council was not provided an accurate representation of the hiring process, nor given an adequate chance to weigh in on who would fill the post.
Those concerns culminated with Mr. Ujvagi resigning as chairman of an internal council group tasked with improving the legislative body’s workflow.
On Aug. 29 — just a few hours before resigning and about an hour after Mr. Cherry emailed his colleagues to announce Mr. Steel’s hiring — Mr. Ujvagi emailed the four other councilmen serving on the workflow task force.
He said he had met with with Mr. Steel several days before, and Mr. Steel “let me know that he had submitted some ideas for proposed duties and responsibilities for the new position.”
“I do not believe any Task Force members have seen this,” his email states. “I see that Council President Cherry has moved up his appointment to September 1st. With Labor Day I do not see how we will be able to review and develop agreement on expectations.”
He attached to that email Mr. Steel’s job proposal.
While Mr. Ujvagi was frustrated that other council members were kept in the dark about the hiring process and chief of staff job description, emails show at least one member of the workflow task force, Councilman Tom Waniewski, learned sooner what was developing.
Mr. Waniewski wrote to task force members Aug. 26 and attached a copy of an updated job description proposal, though he did not indicate it was Mr. Steel’s own proposal he had revised.
“I took some of the information that was ‘pitched’ as reason for hiring [chief of staff] and added to/reworked it based on our discussions,” the email read. “Based on the president’s direction, we can tweak, add, subtract, etc. accordingly.”
Mr. Steel in an interview Thursday said he crafted the proposal after Mr. Cherry had approached him about taking the job, but didn’t yet have the chief of staff duties set in stone.
“I said, ‘Well, if you want me to be chief of staff, one of the things that a good chief of staff can do is write job descriptions,’ “ he said. “I undertook it on my own initiative. In my experience, the best thing you can do to get a job is to show you can do the job.”
Mr. Steel said he researched similar positions in various cities and leaned on his own experiences from eight years on council to come up with expectations for the job. He added that he wasn’t pitching it to Mr. Cherry as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
“It’s not like it’s anything exclusive to me. I think it’s a pretty good document, frankly,” he said.
Mr. Ujvagi on Thursday said he could not remember another instance of someone submitting to council a description for a job they hoped to fill.
Mr. Waniewski said he viewed Mr. Steel submitting the proposed job description as, while unusual, a welcome contribution to a process the task force was already working on.
“We had no job description for a chief of staff because we had no chief of staff. We had some ideas about what we would like to see, and that was the debate that was going on in our task force. We never really fine-tuned that,” he said. “Steve was proactive about it. He knew what the job could entail, and the fact that there really is no job description is why we need somebody who can help put a job description together.”
Sandy Spang and Larry Sykes, the other two councilmen on the task force, both said they were unaware Mr. Steel had submitted a job description until Mr. Ujvagi brought it to their attention after he had been appointed.
More than a week after Mr. Steel was named chief of staff, council members still are waiting on an opinion from the city’s legal experts as to whether Mr. Cherry was allowed to unilaterally create the new job and fill it, or if he must take his nominee to a full council vote as council rules indicate.
Mr. Cherry did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.
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