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Published: Monday, 5/5/2008

Dual role may end for leader of LCIC

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Konop Konop
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The search for a new director for the Lucas County Improvement Corp. was halted last week due to budget constraints after the agency had spent at least $12,000 on the process.

The LCIC's executive board had contracted with search firm Waverly Partners LLC to conduct a nationwide search, but the effort was stopped last week after learning no funding was in place for a new executive director's salary.

County Commissioner Ben Konop, who headed the search committee despite being one of the LCIC's loudest critics, stepped down as the committee's chairman April 30, claiming he did not want to be involved in a search he felt was inappropriate.

LCIC's executive board entered into a contract with Waverly for three payments of $12,000, based on three phases of the candidate search. If the group had hired one of the candidates which Waverly identified, it would have paid $36,000.

Interim Director Matt Sapara said LCIC has paid the first $12,000 payment to Waverly, but he did not know whether the second payment was due.

With a potentially noisy search out of the way, the LCIC's supporters hope the troubled county agency can buckle down and focus on achieving some accomplishments in job creation.

The agency, founded decades ago as a low-key community agency, was revamped in 2005 to act as the Lucas County government's exclusive economic development agency.

With a 28-member board made up of appointments from the county commissioners, the city of Toledo, and other municipalities and townships in Lucas County, the agency's goal was to bring in all actors into the economic development process.

But under its former director, Shawn Ferguson, the agency was enveloped in controversy over some of its appointments and contracts. More recently, the city of Toledo pulled most of its funding from the agency, and Mr. Konop has sought to halt funding for the agency.

After Mr. Ferguson's resignation as director earlier this year, Mr. Sapara has served as the organization's executive director, while still working for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Mr. Sapara is paid a $3,000 monthly stipend, while still collecting a full salary from the Port Authority.

His position was meant to be temporary, but after Mr. Konop found that no money existed for a permanent executive director beyond the monthly stipend, he halted the search and stepped down as its director.

The budget was put in place in April, when the Lucas County commissioners approved an additional $200,000 to continue the LCIC's funding through the end of the year.

While LCIC board president Rob Robinson said the budget was "bare-bones," nobody at the lengthy commissioners' hearing discussed funding for the executive director when they approved the funding.

LCIC supporters said they hoped Mr. Sapara could continue in his current position and guide the agency past its controversies.

But it's not clear if Mr. Sapara, or the Port Authority, wants to see him continue in his dual role past July 28, the date originally agreed upon by the two organizations.

"It certainly would be a challenge," Mr. Sapara said when asked about staying on as its director. "I honestly don't know."

Mr. Sapara's other boss - Port Authority executive director James Hartung - also said he wasn't sure if the arrangement could last forever.

"We feel the pinch of Matt not being there on some occasions," Mr. Hartung said. "You can only do so much."

Mr. Hartung also sits on the executive board of the LCIC.

In the past, Mr. Hartung has insisted he will not let Mr. Sapara become part of a "political debate" over the LCIC.

"My hope is, and I'm optimistic that reason is going to win out, and everybody is going to reconsider what the steps for economic redevelopment are," Mr. Hartung said. "We're going to be ruled by the law of reasonable persons, and we're going to end the nonsense of political positioning and turfism."

While not criticizing Mr. Sapara directly, Mr. Konop said the failure to find a new director from outside Lucas County showed the triumph of the "good old boys network."

He also said he believed the LCIC intentionally did not fund the executive director's position in the hopes of keeping Mr. Sapara.

"I assume that was the intention all along," Mr. Konop said. "Which is unfortunate, because we're not going to have a search for someone to inject some new ideas and some new energy."

Commissioner Pete Gerken, who helped found the LCIC and is one of its strongest supporters, said he didn't request funding for an executive director's position because he was trying to keep its budget down - and felt the search would have been impossible with the controversy swirling around the agency.

"It would have been a waste of taxpayers' dollars to continue to pay a search firm more money, because the actions were a foregone conclusion," Mr. Gerken said. "[Applicants] would Google, and they'd see the negative publicity. The chickens will come home to roost."

Mr. Konop said the agency found several possible candidates who had indicated interest, but not yet applied for the position while the search was active.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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