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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2010

Lucas auditor: Kaczala

When The Blade endorsed Democrat Anita Lopez four years ago in her successful campaign for Lucas County auditor, we applauded her energy and passion. In that office, regrettably, she has allowed those qualities to run rampant, creating unnecessary turmoil and controversy.

The auditor's office sets property values for tax purposes, issues various licenses, and makes sure that measuring devices such as gasoline pumps are accurate. It needs steadier leadership to do these important jobs. This year, Republican challenger GINA-MARIE KACZALA is the better choice.

Ms. Lopez's rise in local politics has been swift. In her first race for elected office in 2001, she won the second highest number of votes in a six-way contest for three seats on the Toledo Board of Education. Three years later — before she completed her school board term — she ran for and was elected Lucas County recorder.

Two years after that, again without completing her full term, she challenged and beat the three-term incumbent auditor — Ms. Kaczala's late husband, Larry.

Ms. Lopez has shaken up the auditor's office. She ended seniority as the determining factor in promotions and increased staff training. She reworked labor contracts, establishing authority over employees that she said had been lost under previous auditors.

Ms. Lopez says about 20 employees have been fired, retired, or changed departments during her term. Among those she fired were directors, union workers, and some of her own hires. The result, she says, has been higher productivity and effectiveness, despite a smaller staff and budget.

But there also have been charges that many of the people she hired lack the training and skills to do their jobs, requiring outside consultants to be hired and work to be outsourced, and costing the county thousands of dollars. She has been accused of hiring friends and supporters, and giving them raises.

By her own admission, Ms. Lopez ruffles feathers, even when she's right. She announced in June that she would no longer process property liens for water bills owed by previous owners, publicly calling out Toledo Mayor Mike Bell instead of working quietly on a resolution.

Last month, she demanded that the County Board of Commissioners either spend the nearly $900,000 surplus in the dog warden's office or issue refunds to dog-license owners, although critics contended that she had long known about the surplus.

And like other entrenched county officials, Ms. Lopez has opposed the thorough structural reform that Lucas County government needs.

Ms. Kaczala has a deep knowledge of the auditor's office; she worked there for more than two decades. She pledges to hire employees with professional credentials appropriate to their jobs. She favors making the auditor an appointed official as part of a broader reform plan.

We admonished Ms. Kaczala's husband when he was auditor that his office was not to be used to reward relatives and friends or to punish political enemies. Whoever is elected auditor, we'll watch out for that.

Whatever happens in November, Ms. Lopez seems likely to continue pursuing public service. But right now, GINA-MARIE KACZALA is the better choice for Lucas County auditor.



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