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Published: Tuesday, 5/8/2007

Konop lets hand-picked panel get down to work

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The eighth-floor conference room at One Government Center was filled for the first time yesterday with the minds Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop personally picked to help transform government in this region.

During his first - and presumably only - speech to the 18-member committee, the 31-year-old commissioner elected in November acknowledged this is not the first time a politician has looked for ways to merge government services in Lucas County.

"Just because it hasn't succeeded in the past, that doesn't mean we shouldn't tackle it now," Mr. Konop said.

With that, the politicians, academics, business and labor leaders, and two University of Toledo law students Mr. Konop assembled were left to have the first of what will be many discussions of ways to improve government at the city and county levels in Lucas County.

The committee, which will be co-chaired by former Maumee Solicitor Ben Marsh and former Lucas County Commissioner Jim Holzemer, is scheduled to meet biweekly until Aug. 20.

At that time, the committee is supposed to give its recommendations to Mr. Konop, who has pledged not to participate in the meetings but will study and possibly present the proposals to other elected leaders.

Proponents and opponents of Mr. Konop's initiative all agree the real fight won't begin until those recommendations are made.

Until then, the committee will be left alone to meet and determine what changes its members believe would benefit Lucas County the most.

Joe Napoli, general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and a late addition to the committee, said he was excited about the opportunity facing him and his colleagues.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to look at and examine some of the issues facing our community," Mr. Napoli said. "With about 650,000 people living in Lucas County, there has to be a strategic plan, a business model, for how to efficiently serve these people. We have a wonderful opportunity to shed some light on how we do that."

Mr. Marsh said he hoped no one came to the table with any preconceived notions of what the committee should accomplish.

Mr. Marsh, 80, said he was on the Lucas County Charter Commission in 1959, which also looked at merging county and city governments. He said that initiative ultimately failed, as did former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford's push to regionalize government in 2004.

"We tried to do too much, and it went over like a lead balloon," Mr. Marsh said.

Lynn Bachelor, a UT political science professor, said the committee recognizes the history of failed attempts at a regionalized government in Lucas County.

But she also said the diversity of the committee itself could have a positive impact on its results.

Ms. Bachelor said a solid mix of Republicans and Democrats, business and labor leaders, and men and women should encourage county residents to support their findings.

"By bringing together a group of people with the wealth of experience and practical knowledge that this group has, I think it demands that people pay attention," Ms. Bachelor said.

Ms. Bachelor also echoed an earlier statement made by Toledo City Council President Rob Ludeman, who is not on the committee but said the Aug. 20 deadline is too short for such an important project.

Mr. Konop said while he will have his recommendations in hand in a few months, actually bringing about governmental change could take much longer to accomplish.

"This is something I could be working for my entire term," he said.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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