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Committee will review proposed tax levies

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Lucas County commissioners voted 2-1 to form a citizens levy review committee that will study proposed countywide tax levies, but not before Republican Maggie Thurber and Democrat Pete Gerken sparred over the members of the committee.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat who is president of the commissioners, Joined Mr. Gerken in supporting the move.

The citizens committee will meet with levy advocates, hear requests, and make recommendations to commissioners. The commissioners are not bound by the recommendations, and still will decide whether to place the levy on the ballot.

Ms. Thurber questioned the need for the committee, saying their work is the responsibility of the commissioners. Mr. Gerken said the group will give the public a voice and access to agencies approaching the county for tax levy dollars.

During the commissioners' meeting and again afterward, Ms. Thurber raised questions about some of the people appointed to the committee.

Among them are Gretchen DeBacker, a former campaign manager for Ms. Wozniak when she was a member of Toledo City Council.

She described Ms. DeBacker, a lawyer, as someone with definite political aspirations. Ms. DeBacker, was a shareholder in DeBacker Management Co., which owned the Sufficient Grounds coffeehouse and sold the business in 2002.

Then-Councilman Wozniak voted in 2002 to allow the city to accept $15,000 to settle a debt from a $57,000 economic development loan taken out by the company in 1994. Ms. DeBacker was Ms. Wozniak's campaign manager in 1997, but Ms. Wozniak claimed in 2002 that her vote was not a conflict of interest.

Ms. DeBacker could not be reached for comment yesterday. Ms. Wozniak could not be reached for comment after yesterday's meeting.

Mr. Gerken described Ms. DeBacker's work with Ms. Wozniak as "volunteer" and said that shouldn't disqualify her from serving on the committee.

Ms. Thurber also questioned the appointment of Ben Konop, a professor at Ohio Northern University in Ada, who ran against U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley (R., Findlay) in November, saying he does not have an address in Lucas County.

Mr. Konop, reached by telephone after the meeting, said he has been living with his parents in Ottawa Hills since January and will move into a condominium in the Toledo Warehouse District in a few weeks.

She said Ron Coughenour, the political coordinator for the Toledo Council AFL-CIO, and Richard Mitchell, a lawyer and former president of the Middle Passages Political Action Committee, are and were involved with organizations that endorse levies. That, she claimed, represents a possible conflict of interest.

Mr. Gerken said he believed it was a stretch to suggest that Mr. Coughenour and Mr. Mitchell had a conflict of interest because of their roles with the AFL-CIO and Middle Passages.

Other review group members approved yesterday were Ardenia Jones-Terry, associate vice president of student services at the University of Toledo; Betty Sweeney, who is retired; Bob Vasquez, director of special projects of The Twelve, Inc.; Will Krosky, who is retired; and Tom Susor, operations manager for TAS, Inc.

Ms. Thurber also said she was shut out of the process to nominate individuals.

Mr. Gerken said the committee represents people with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. He denied that Ms. Thurber was shut out of the process, contending that she never brought any names forward for consideration.

Mr. Gerken said Ms. Thurber knew about his efforts to form the committee and the application process. He said the members approved yesterday all volunteered their services.

Ms. Thurber said she was told by staff members in the commissioners' office that it didn't matter who she nominated because Mr. Gerken and Ms. Wozniak already had agreed on the committee members.

She did not elaborate on who told her that specifically, but said she felt it was clear that she was not invited into the nomination process.

Ms. Thurber said the group, overall, lacks people with financial and business backgrounds. She said the group does not have a Republican. Mr. Gerken said Ms. Sweeney, who is retired, is a Republican, but Ms. Thurber described her as an independent.

Ms. Sweeney could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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