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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

Professor takes reins at LCIC; Konop leads search for permanent chief

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Economic development in Lucas County moved on without Shawn Ferguson yesterday - sort of.

The Lucas County commissioners named University of Toledo professor Tim Schramko as their choice to temporarily replace Mr. Ferguson, who resigned Tuesday to head off being fired from his post as the chief executive officer for the Lucas County Improvement Corp.

According to his university profile, Mr. Schramko is an associate professor of entrepreneurship and management who received his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University.

And the commissioner who had consistently criticized Mr. Ferguson's performance over the last month, Ben Konop, was put in charge of leading a national search for Mr. Ferguson's permanent replacement.

But the first 24 hours of life without Mr. Ferguson as the county's point man for economic development were not without the contentious and confusing moments that plagued his final month in office.

In an awkward joint speech made by all three county commissioners endorsing Mr. Schramko to the LCIC executive committee yesterday afternoon, Commissioner Pete Gerken referred to Mr. Konop as having a "youthful enthusiasm for change." Mr. Konop, in turn, said he was "not going to stop asking [the] tough questions" that led to Mr. Ferguson's downfall.

"Now the hard part is going to take place," Mr. Konop said about finding a new LCIC chief. "I'm going to continue asking tough questions and it might be painful at times, but it's in the best interest of the community."

Yesterday morning, Mr. Konop suggested the commissioners' seat on the LCIC executive committee should rotate among the three commissioners, rather than be maintained solely by Mr. Gerken. Mr. Konop said he would be interested in taking over the seat when the commissioners make their committee appointments in January.

Mr. Gerken, who has been on the executive committee since LCIC became the county's public economic development agency in 2006, said every commissioners' appointment is subject to a rotation each year.

"If [Mr. Konop] wants this seat, we'll let the board [of commissioners] decide that in January," Mr. Gerken said.

Other events indicated hard feelings over the LCIC still linger. They include:

•Mr. Ferguson's brother, Kevin Ferguson, attempted to read a statement to the executive committee, only to be cut off after a few paragraphs by Mr. Gerken and Tom Uhler, vice president of the committee, so an executive session could take place.

When the committee exited its private session, Kevin Ferguson was encouraged to continue reading his statement, but he declined and said he would submit it in written form.

•In an interview with The Blade, Mr. Uhler said Mr. Konop was one of the main reasons Mr. Ferguson needed to be replaced.

Mr. Uhler said Mr. Konop's public questioning of Mr. Ferguson's tactics as an economic development director made it difficult for the LCIC to do business.

•Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner holds a seat on the executive committee, yet he was again absent from yesterday's meeting.

Mr. Finkbeiner - as usual - was represented by proxy by Don Monroe, a senior development specialist for the city who has his own seat on the executive committee.

Critics say Toledo needs to be a serious partner with LCIC for the organization to function. Of the $123,392 the city was to pay for LCIC membership this year, records show it has paid only about $25,000.

Mr. Monroe said Toledo has been an active LCIC partner through representation - Kathleen Kovacs, another city representative, also has a seat on the executive committee - but financial contributions will need the support of the mayor and City Council.

"If I was mayor, I would put money into the economic development pursuits of the LCIC," said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County commissioners.

Mr. Finkbeiner was not available to comment.

Mr. Schramko, who also could not be reached for comment, was recommended as a temporary replacement for Mr. Ferguson by UT President Lloyd Jacobs.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Regional Growth Partnership also offered staff help during the LCIC's time of transition.

The executive committee elected to have Mr. Schramko in for an interview next week before he's hired, but Mr. Gerken said the committee wasn't "looking at anyone else."

Mr. Schramko is expected to run the LCIC for about 90 days, at which time Mr. Konop and his search committee hope to have found a new chief executive officer.

Mr. Ferguson received a total compensation package worth about $175,000 annually since taking over in July, 2006, a figure Mr. Konop said should be taken into account when filling the position.

"If we're going to pay this person $175,000 of taxpayer money, we better be able to get the best and the brightest," Mr. Konop said. "If we can't find the best and the brightest, he should not be paid $175,000. That's too much taxpayer money to be wasted on someone who is not up to snuff."

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



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