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Published: Wednesday, 9/26/2007

LCIC exec is blasted again by Konop

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County Improvement Corp.'s top executive again drew fire from a county commissioner yesterday, this time for his overall job performance.

Shawn Ferguson, who as chief executive officer of the LCIC oversees economic development in the county, was grilled publicly for the second time this month by Commissioner Ben Konop, who during the commissioners' regular meeting took issue with what he said was Mr. Ferguson's "lack of vision" to bring new jobs to the county.

In what began as a discussion to approve the allocation of $108,000 in public money to the LCIC to cover operating costs, Mr. Konop pressed Mr. Ferguson for examples of the economic agency recruiting companies to set up shop in Lucas County.

Mr. Konop said that Mr. Ferguson has "the most important job in the county" and is held to a higher standard because of his financial compensation package - which includes an annual base salary of $120,000.

Because of Mr. Ferguson's job title and salary, Mr. Konop suggested he should be going to great lengths to lure companies and jobs to the area. He asked Mr. Ferguson if he and his staff were researching potential businesses to recruit for Lucas County and "working the phones" to attract them here.

Mr. Ferguson responded: "Yes, absolutely, we look at that. And I think that we're closer in our thinking than this conversation is reflecting."

Mr. Konop persisted, asking Mr. Ferguson to cite specific examples of an aggressive recruiting effort of an out-of-town business.

Mr. Ferguson declined to offer any specific examples, and focused on LCIC's job retention efforts.

Mr. Konop grew frustrated with Mr. Ferguson's response and, at one point, said: "If you only focus on retention, we're still going to have a high employment rate."

"I'm disappointed today because he failed to offer one example of his office going out and attracting new businesses," Mr. Konop told The Blade after the meeting. "To me, that's troubling. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency in that office."

Mr. Konop said he was not calling for Mr. Ferguson to be removed from his post but added: "I'm not pleased. To get the total compensation package he's getting and he can't offer one example of attracting new jobs - that's unacceptable."

Mr. Ferguson declined further comment to The Blade and referred to his comments during the meeting.

He has been in his current role since July, 2006, and was Fulton County's economic development director in 1995-98 and 2000-06.

Earlier this month, Mr. Konop publicly engaged Mr. Ferguson over the issue of ensuring that companies granted tax abatements are living up to their pledges of job creation within the county.

Mr. Konop, during a commissioners' meeting on Sept. 11, pushed Mr. Ferguson to personally visit each of the 42 companies receiving a tax abatement in Lucas County - a request Mr. Ferguson initially dismissed.

Mr. Ferguson has changed his tone on that issue, and he and Mr. Konop last week announced a plan to strengthen the county's abatement enforcement procedure. But it was clear yesterday that Mr. Konop's frustrations with Mr. Ferguson had not improved.

And Commissioner Pete Gerken said he understood why Mr. Konop was upset.

Mr. Gerken, who worked to create the LCIC and sits on its nine-member executive board, said Mr. Ferguson has refused to complete tasks given to him by Mr. Konop on multiple occasions.

Mr. Gerken said he has a different view of Mr. Ferguson's job performance than Mr. Konop, noting that his own working relationship with Mr. Ferguson was better.

"There happens to be a disconnect between Shawn and Ben, and it's Shawn's responsibility to make sure one of his major investors feels better about his job performance," Mr. Gerken said.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, declined to assess Mr. Ferguson's job performance but said: "We want to make sure no one is settling for the ways things currently are. We want to make sure we take the next step."

She requested that Mr. Gerken bring the LCIC's executive board to the commissioners' chambers for further discussion on job creation in Lucas County and told The Blade she expects that meeting to occur in the next 30 days.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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