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Published: Monday, 8/19/2002

New Ohio Turnpike chief experienced at troubled agencies

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Marchbanks: He knows how it feels. Marchbanks: He knows how it feels.
AP Enlarge

BEREA, Ohio - One week after scandal struck the Ohio Turnpike Commission, Gov. Bob Taft's administration assigned Jack R. Marchbanks to “restore public confidence” in the agency that runs the 241-mile toll road that stretches across northern Ohio.

At the Aug. 12 commission meeting, Mr. Marchbanks walked from his seat in the audience to a table where he sat with Deputy Executive Director Thomas Castrigano and general counsel Tom Amato.

“I could feel their pain,” said Mr. Marchbanks, district deputy director for the state Department of Transportation in eight central Ohio counties, including Franklin.

Mr. Castrigano and Mr. Amato are listed in the inspector general's report as among 30 turnpike officials who accepted free meals, gifts, golf outings, and pro sports tickets from 18 companies doing business with the Turnpike Commission from 1999 to 2001.

They worked for Executive Director Gino Zomparelli, who resigned two days after the inspector general released the investigation report.

Mr. Marchbanks said he shared the turnpike employees' pain because he was a target of an investigation 13 years ago.

In August, 1989, a report by Franklin County Prosecutor Michael Miller revealed evidence that employees who worked for Mr. Marchbanks at the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency had filed overtime for hours they did not work, though not enough to indict them.

Earlier that year Franklin County Administrator Jeff Cabot accused Mr. Marchbanks of “absenteeism, neglect of duty, and incompetence.”

Mr. Marchbanks resigned in September, 1989 as the agency's director. He also filed a racial discrimination complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission, which did not find “probable cause.”

He said the absenteeism accusations stemmed from his working on a community blues festival - a pursuit he said Mr. Cabot had encouraged.

Mr. Marchbanks, 48, said the controversy, which he calls a “failed attempt at career assassination,” will help him deal with personnel decisions at the Turnpike Commission.

“As painful as that was, the scar tissue does help me. I can look at a situation and see what is malice and exaggeration and politically motivated,” he said.

Mr. Marchbanks said he told Mr. Castrigano last week about the controversy at the child support enforcement agency, where he took the helm in December, 1987.

“I told him that everybody is going to get a fair shake from me. But I also said I realize that certain people are culpable and must be held accountable,” he said.

Reached for comment last week, Mr. Miller said he did not recall anything about the investigation of the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency. Mr. Cabot, now a Columbus school board member, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Marchbanks acknowledged that he struggled as head of the new county agency because he was trying to pull together “three different cultures” - welfare employees, court clerks, and assistant county prosecutors.

“I think the Turnpike Commission is pretty much one culture,” he said.

This is not the first time Mr. Marchbanks has received an election-year assignment to take over a troubled agency on an interim basis.

In 1994 Gov. George Voinovich's chief of staff, the late Paul Mifsud, chose Mr. Marchbanks to become interim head of the state's Equal Opportunity Center.

He succeeded Booker Tall. An aide to Mr. Voinovich when he was mayor of Cleveland, Mr. Tall was indicted in January, 1994, accused of signing the payroll time sheets of several employees paid for time not worked.

Mr. Marchbanks called Mr Tall a friend. He died of pancreatic cancer after his indictment.

In 1995 Retha Phillips, president of Dayton-based BBP Communications Group, filed a complaint with the state inspector general's office, alleging that the Lottery Commission improperly awarded a state contract.

Although her firm was the low bidder, Ms. Phillips did not get a minority advertising and media buying contract because her joint venture with a white-controlled company was not a genuine minority business partnership.

Mr. Marchbanks made that decision, ruling that Ms. Phillips, who is African-American, did not have enough power to make decisions for the joint venture.

The state inspector general's office interviewed Mr. Marchbanks under oath and cleared him of any wrongdoing in November, 1996.

Ms. Phillips said last week Mr. Marchbanks treated her “very badly.”

She said Mr. Marchbanks voided her joint venture after receiving pressure from a powerful Republican in Cleveland. She said she did not recall that person's name.

“I don't know why he did it, but his decision was very unfair. I don't know if politics was involved,” Ms. Phillips said.

Mr. Marchbanks said his decision was a “painful one” because, growing up in Dayton, he had watched Ms. Phillips report the news on a local TV station.

“She was a groundbreaking journalist,” he said.

Born on Nov. 9, 1953, in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Jack Ramon Marchbanks was a baby when his parents moved to Dayton. His father was a railroad trackman.

He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Dayton, a master's in state and local government from Atlanta University, and a master's in business administration from Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Mr. Marchbanks said he has been a Republican since he met his future mother-in-law, Daisy Flowers. Mrs. Flowers, who died in 1996, was a prominent Republican in Columbus and a former member of the state Civil Rights Commission.

Through his mother-in-law, Mr. Marchbanks met GOP governors James A. Rhodes and George Voinovich.

“It's the party of opportunity, and I'm an individualist,” he said.

He worked in the Rhodes administration as executive director of the Minority Development Financing Commission.

Sick of government service after the controversy at the child-support enforcement agency, Mr. Marchbanks was told to “get back on the horse” by his mother-in-law. Daisy Flowers introduced him to Mr. Voinovich.

Mr. Marchbanks worked for Mr. Voinovich's 1990 gubernatorial campaign as a researcher and writer. When Mr. Voinovich won, his chief of staff, Mr. Mifsud, contacted Mr. Marchbanks about an opening at ODOT, and he was hired in August, 1991.

“I know he landed in trouble, but he helped me get back,” said Mr. Marchbanks. He referred to the six months Mr. Mifsud spent in a jail work-release program in 1997-1998 because of a scandal over a sweetheart deal on his future wife's home from a contractor who had won lucrative state contracts. Mr. Mifsud died in May, 2000.

Over the past 11 years, Mr. Marchbanks has worked his way up the ladder.

He receives high marks from his former boss, Mike Flynn, who is ODOT's district deputy director in the Cincinnati area.

“Jack is a very honest person. In all honesty, the Turnpike Commission is in for a change. .... He is not a tyrant, but he will ensure that policies are followed. He has disciplined and fired people and you don't get joy out of that,” Mr. Flynn said.

Mr. Marchbanks said he has a simple rule with ODOT employees: Don't accept anything of value from firms that do or want to do business with the agency.

“I've told them if you want to golf with the chief engineer and consultant of a company that we just signed a contract with, do so at your own peril. I'll make you walk the plank,” he said.

He said the only freebie he has accepted is passes to the Ohio State Fair - and he was not required to disclose that in his annual statement to the state Ethics Commission because their value was under $75. The passes were provided by the state.

Mr. Marchbanks, who earns $92,268 a year at ODOT, said he has turned down offers of free tickets to Columbus Blue Jacket hockey games from a consultant to engineering firms. He said he also has turned down free passes to a golf tournament held in the Columbus area.

Mr. Marchbanks and his wife, Columbus schoolteacher Alice Flowers, live in a neighborhood near downtown Columbus. They have no children.

His chief hobbies are music, running, and writing.

A guitar player, Mr. Marchbanks went to high school and college with members of Ohio Players and Lakeside, two funk bands with Ohio roots.

Mr. Marchbanks co-wrote two songs recorded by Klymaxx, an all-female funk band best known for its 1985 hit “I Miss You.” He shares a recording studio with a friend in Detroit.

In 1991 a musical that Mr. Marchbanks wrote, Jazzy Broadway, was performed in Columbus. It is about three teenagers who meet a black vaudevillian during a trip to New York City and get a history lesson about the Jazz Age. He is working on a story for the Tavis Smiley Show about the history of funk bands in Ohio.

Mr. Marchbanks has run several marathons, with his lowest time three hours, 29 minutes, and 13 seconds nearly two years ago in Utah.

A committee has been formed to search for a new leader and that could happen within the next three months. Mr. Marchbanks said he hopes to return to his ODOT job by the December holidays.

ODOT Director Gordon Proctor said he recommended Mr. Marchbanks for the interim post because he oversaw the largest construction program in the history of central Ohio. It included the widening of the I-270 north outer belt and I-71.

Mr. Marchbanks said he is confident he will lead to improvements at the Turnpike Commission.

“I think like a man of action, but I act like a man of thought; be fair but resolute,” he said.



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