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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2008

Outside look at Lucas County Improvement Corp. eyed by Wozniak

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak is calling for an independent review of the Lucas County Improvement Corp., and she wants former University of Toledo President Dan Johnson to lead the effort.

Ms. Wozniak, who has voted in the past to continue funding for the beleaguered county economic development agency, outlined her proposal yesterday for a five-member, independent "action agency" in a letter to the LCIC. The letter was sent shortly after her fellow commissioner, Ben Konop, called in a press conference for the dismantling of the agency.

"It seems like we're having news conferences and news conferences about the LCIC, and nothing seems to change," said Ms. Wozniak, president of the board of commissioners. "They haven't created any jobs - the news conferences - and I don't think they're helping the people who are out of work."

She said she hoped an independent review could "take the political football out of the equation" and produce a clear-eyed view of how the agency is functioning and whether its model should be continued.

"The bottom line is, we can't abandon the government role to economic development," Ms. Wozniak said. "I'm hopeful that this can occur quickly and can be efficient and effective."

The LCIC is a "community improvement corporation" that has existed for decades, but in 2005, Commissioner Pete Gerken moved to empower it to conduct all economic development for the county. In theory, the agency would combine the efforts of the county, the city of Toledo, and surrounding communities to be a single voice for the region to attract and retain businesses.

In practice, the agency has struggled with controversy over the last year, which even its supporters concede has hindered its ability to function.

Its director, Shawn Ferguson, resigned his position in October, and the city of Toledo has pulled most of its funding for the operation. Mr. Konop has been adamant in his opposition to the agency, and has voted against its funding several times.

Mr. Gerken, who is on the LCIC's executive committee, and Mr. Konop found themselves in a rare agreement - albeit for opposite reasons - regarding Ms. Wozniak's proposal, with both expressing skepticism.

Mr. Gerken claimed the LCIC should focus only on moving forward, while Mr. Konop claimed no review was necessary to declare the agency a failure.

"I think anyone who has sat on the LCIC for several years, like Commissioner Wozniak, and objectively looks at its performance and its use of over a million dollars of taxpayer money - I think one's mind should pretty well be made up by now. I think the idea of having another commissioner look into a committee and offer a report is probably redundant," Mr. Konop said. "I wouldn't define this as leadership."

He said he will present a resolution Tuesday to dissolve the LCIC and shift economic development back to the county commissioners, with a drastic cut in budget. The resolution is similar to one Mr. Konop presented to the commissioners in January, which Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken voted down.

Mr. Gerken said he felt public pressure surrounding the agency in the past few months has been review enough, and he wanted to see the agency move forward.

"I think there's really a consensus, with everyone except Mr. Konop, that this is a model that can work, that people can start buying into," Mr. Gerken said. "I'm about results, not study."

It is not clear whether there will be a vote on Ms. Wozniak's proposal. She said she believed that Mr. Johnson could move forward and create a committee, with the four other members appointed by the board of commissioners. Mr. Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Wozniak said she did not want to see taxpayer money spent on the review and expected it could be passed quickly.

On Thursday, LCIC Board President Rob Robinson sent in a letter of resignation, claiming his involvement as CEO of an intellectual property development firm could pose a conflict of interest with his role at the LCIC.

Mr. Konop sent the agency a letter asking for a report of results - including a list of the companies contacted for attraction to Lucas County - shortly before the resignation letter was sent.

Mr. Robinson strongly denied Mr. Konop's suggestion that the letter forced his ouster.

"That couldn't be farther from the truth, that couldn't be farther than accurate," Mr. Robinson said, claiming he didn't know anything about the letter until after he resigned.

But he had harsh words for Mr. Konop, claiming he has made work at the LCIC more difficult for political reasons.

"We tried to work with him," he said. "I think he's someone who believes in his heart the things he is doing. But you have to learn to play on a team. You can't just be a vigilante."

At his press conference, Mr. Konop said he wouldn't reply to statements from Mr. Robinson.

"I don't think it's productive to get into personal attacks," Mr. Konop said.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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