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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

Konop: Lucas County Commissioner cohorts might be in cahoots

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After a contentious meeting with four 2-1 votes, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop yesterday claimed his fellow commissioners were ganging up on him - and possibly deliberating outside of public meetings.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, and Commissioner Pete Gerken have voted together 6,174 times since 2005, with only one disagreement, according to a report Mr. Konop's staff compiled.

He said the numbers suggest some sort of coordination between the two commissioners.

"To me, that's troubling," Mr. Konop said. "There's not a fair, open debate going on. These numbers really show the system in Lucas County is broken."

He said he didn't know if the two commissioners were talking before voting, but he feels the numbers speak for themselves.

Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken strongly denied they were coordinating their votes against Mr. Konop. Mr. Gerken noted that Mr. Konop did not include his own votes - which would have not have differed from Mr. Gerken's most of the time, when the commissioners make noncontroversial, procedural votes.

He said most of the conflicting votes regard the Lucas County Improvement Corp.

"It's usually about the same subject - the LCIC - that there's any disagreement," Mr. Gerken said. "We do disagree, and that's democracy. We have a right to disagree."

He said he fully complies with Ohio's open meetings laws, which forbid a majority of a board or commission from deliberating about issues outside of public meetings.

"I'm aware of what the Sunshine Laws allow us to do and not allow us to do," Mr. Gerken said, adding that if Mr. Konop has a specific allegation he should bring it forward.

Ms. Wozniak said Mr. Konop's claims were "quite a leap."

"No one violates the Sunshine Law," she said. "I don't do so with [Mr. Gerken], and I don't do so with Commissioner Konop."

During yesterday's meeting, Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken voted against a resolution offered by Mr. Konop to dissolve the LCIC, while Mr. Konop voted against a resolution proposed by Ms. Wozniak to create an environmental commission using Lucas County Solid Waste Management District dollars.

Mr. Konop also disagreed with his colleagues regarding a contract between Lucas County Juvenile Court and the University of Cincinnati, and with a travel request for the county engineer's office, both of which were approved - 2-1 - with Mr. Konop voting no.

Regarding the LCIC, Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken once again supported the LCIC.

Mr. Konop's resolution was to rescind the LCIC's status as the county's economic development agent, and to withdraw all county funding to it.

Since 2005, the LCIC, which has 27 board members from the city of Toledo, Lucas County, and other municipalities and townships in the county, has acted as the county's economic development department.

Mr. Konop claimed the agency has not been able to justify its continued funding, which he claims has been more than $1 million since 2005.

It was the third time this year the commissioners have voted 2-1 to continue with the LCIC.

But an evaluation of the agency, to be made by a five-member committee headed by former University of Toledo President Dan Johnson, is moving forward, after Mr. Gerken said he was open to the idea.

Ms. Wozniak will ask the LCIC's executive board to approve the review panel at its executive board meeting Friday.

Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken voted to approve a plan by Ms. Wozniak to create the Lucas County Sustainability Commission in the county's Soil and Water Conservation District.

The commissioners will appropriate $30,000 in district's funds, which will be matched with another $30,000 from the state.

Ms. Wozniak said the commission would help coordinate county efforts to promote environment-friendly issues, but Mr. Konop questioned how the money would be spent.

The commissioners also voted to approve a contract between the Juvenile Court and the University of Cincinnati to evaluate the county's Family Drug Court.

In an earlier meeting, Mr. Konop asked Juvenile Court personnel to explain why the $45,000 contract - to be paid by a state grant - was not with the University of Toledo or another area university.

All three commissioners said they would prefer to support local contracts, but Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken voted to approve the resolution, claiming it was too late to change it. Mr. Konop voted against it.

Mr. Konop also voted against a resolution approving $320 in travel expenses for the county engineer's office, claiming it was unnecessary. The other two commissioners approved it.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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