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Published: Monday, 4/21/2003

Squabbles split commissioners

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Harry Barlos didn't think anything of it.

He knew fellow Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber was meeting with staff members in a conference room about a job-training contract - his pet project - and decided to sit in and listen.

Not long after the early April meeting, he got an e-mail from Ms. Thurber that stunned him.

“Today I had a meeting with several of our staff,” she wrote. “It would never occur to me to walk into a meeting that you were having - unannounced and uninvited. I would appreciate it if you extended me the same consideration in the future.”

The tiff underscores the end of the collegial days created by an all-Democratic board and represents what some see as distrust among the commissioners. Under the old board, no commissioner would have thought twice about a colleague entering a meeting in a common room, several county staff members said.

While Ms. Thurber, the board's lone Republican elected last fall, thought it was inappropriate for Mr. Barlos to enter the room, he thought it illustrated the lack of willingness to work together on immense policy issues that face the county.

“I thought it was a peculiar e-mail,” Mr. Barlos said. “When you have what is essentially a brand new board and one of my colleagues says I'm unannounced and uninvited, I think those are pretty strong words. Until we start working as a group to address these serious issues, that becomes a stumbling block.”

Ms. Thurber says Mr. Barlos didn't talk to her for days after the e-mail. “He has his nose out of joint about a couple of issues, and I'm just going to let it go. Is that one way of saying how we're doing?” she said.

It wasn't long after she sent her e-mail before Ms. Thurber was able to lodge her own complaints about her colleagues' behavior. At an April 10 meeting, Ms. Thurber was surprised when the $1 million job-training contract she had been discussing a week earlier was brought up for a vote, even though it wasn't on the agenda.

The bitterness surrounding Ms. Thurber's e-mail spilled over to the meeting as Mr. Barlos accused her of locking staff members away in her office and micromanaging the contract. Ms. Thurber shot back, “We wouldn't be in the situation we're in now” if there had been enough leadership on the issue before she joined the board.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak never entered the public squabble. But she played a crucial role by saying she wasn't comfortable waiting any longer before the contract with Network was approved, arguing that thousands of unemployed workers needed help immediately.

Ultimately, Ms. Thurber voted to approve the contract after the exchanges with Mr. Barlos. But it is Ms. Wozniak who she tagged for the incidents that led to the vote.

“I will give them credit - it was very well orchestrated. I'll give credit where credit is due,” Ms. Thurber said. “Commissioner Wozniak conducted it well. She had the people there, brought them up, got the assurances.”

Caught in the middle is Ms. Skeldon Wozniak, a former social worker and Toledo city councilman. “Having a fight or two among the commissioners doesn't surprise me, and it won't surprise me if it happens again,” she said.



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