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HICKS-HUDSON VACANCY

Candidate to fill council slot has checkered past

Harper’s records reveal conflicts

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A review of Yvonne Harper's city of Toledo personnel file and complaints she filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission revealed a history of discipline and conflict in recent years.

The Blade
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The woman supported by the Lucas County Democratic Party for the vacant Toledo City Council District 4 seat owes $4,500 in state income taxes, received poor marks for working with the public at Toledo Municipal Court, and filed repeated discrimination complaints against her former bosses, one whom she called a “white master.”

Yvonne Harper, who spent 21 years as a bailiff in Toledo Municipal Court and has held high-ranking positions in the Lucas County Democratic Party, was endorsed Feb. 19 by the party for the council seat. Additionally, a near majority of Democratic Toledo councilmen said they are willing to appoint her Tuesday to the District 4 council seat Paula Hicks-Hudson vacated when she became mayor.

Ms. Harper, 65, of 2337 Franklin Ave. is the party's executive director, was previously chairman of its powerful screening committee, and has served on the party’s central and executive committees.

A review of her city of Toledo personnel file and complaints she filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission revealed a history of discipline and conflict in recent years.

In October, 2009, Ms. Harper objected to being assigned to pepper-spray training with only other black court employees and a Jewish employee. A letter written by Chief Bailiff Dave Baz detailed Ms. Harper’s objections.

“I reminded those [who] were scheduled for pepper spray training in the afternoon,” Mr. Baz wrote to then-Court Administrator Pam Roberts. “Bailiff Harper disrupted the meeting and interjected that the training for today was for ‘black folk.’ Bailiff Harper continued to interject more negative/​hostile comments stating she had a problem with how only ‘three blacks, a Jew, and the white master’ were going to today’s training.”

The document states Ms. Harper claimed to know “lots of influential people” who were aware of discrimination in the courthouse and that “everyone knows there is racism all over.”

In his letter, Mr. Baz explained that pepper-spray training assignments were set alphabetically. Mr. Baz could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Harper was accused of disruptive behavior on the job Feb. 1, 2010, when she called a deputy bailiff a “long-haired, pot-smoking hippie,” according to a letter in her personnel file. In May, 2012, she was disciplined for leaving a scheduled eviction and going to a Rite Aid store and Democratic Party headquarters.

She agreed in 2012 to drop future appeals of dismissed harassment complaints in exchange for retiring from the municipal court, according to an August, 2012, settlement and nondisclosure agreement obtained by The Blade. The agreement stipulated that Ms. Harper would keep quiet about the settlement, and if questioned about her dispute with the court, she would reply that the matter was “confidentially resolved.”

“I would not like to share anything on that because I feel it was personal and I would just like to say I retired, I got all my benefits,” Ms. Harper said. “There are certain things that are personal and I would like that these are personal.”

Ms. Harper filed three complaints against her employer with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, including an allegation of harassment over the pepper-spray training exchange and a work evaluation done in January, 2011, which she claimed contained “untruths.”

The evaluation rated her as unsatisfactory on working with the public and oral communication. She was found to need improvement regarding effectiveness under stress, attitude, following policies and procedures, and constructive criticism.

Her history at the Democratic Party also has been uneven. Amid a management shake-up and disagreement with then-party chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, she resigned as the party’s executive director in 2013, only to return to the part-time job a week later.

Ms. Harper said her years as a bailiff and time volunteering have prepared her for council. A lifelong Toledoan, Ms. Harper said she believes in empowering those who haven't had a voice in the political process.

“I am a public servant and I have been working all my life as a public servant,” she said. “I have always done something to help someone. I have walked door to door to register people, to get votes. I was part of the campaign against Senate Bill 5, and I worked on the voter bill of rights.”

Tax lien

Lucas County Common Pleas Court records show the Ohio Attorney General’s office last year filed a lawsuit against Ms. Harper on behalf of the Ohio Department of Taxation for collection of $4,541 in personal income taxes.

Gary Gudmundson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation, said Friday he could not speak about specific taxpayers, but said liens are typically filed after the department is unable to collect taxes owed. “Accounts are transferred to the Ohio Attorney General’s office for collection,” he said.

Ms. Harper refused to discuss the lawsuit or her tax problems with The Blade.

Since her Democratic Party endorsement, Ms. Harper has lobbied every member of council for support.

Steven Steel, an at-large Toledo councilman and the county Democratic Party chairman, said he will vote for Ms. Harper.

Mr. Steel said people seeking endorsements are asked about anything that could shake public confidence. “In the screening process, we are more interested in self-disclosure,” he said. He told The Blade on Friday that Ms. Harper had not disclosed to him, nor did he know, that the state had placed a lien against her for not paying her taxes.

Council Democrats Matt Cherry, Lindsay Webb, Larry Sykes, and Tyrone Riley said they likely will support Ms. Harper. Councilman Jack Ford, who has identified himself as a Democrat and an independent, could not be reached for comment.

Democratic Councilman Mike Craig said he will not support Ms. Harper.

“For most people, [the past] is not going to affect their decision,” Mr. Craig said. “Having been on the other side of dealing with Yvonne Harper, it certainly affects mine. In the past, she has been rude and disrespectful, impossible to deal with, and that’s not a good mix when you are trying to gain consensus with 12.”

Mayor Hicks-Hudson, who does not have a vote in the appointment, said she supports Ms. Harper to fill her former council seat, noting that she has been very helpful politically and is deeply concerned about voters’ rights.

The Democratic endorsement has carried a lot of weight in the past. For example, Ms. Hicks-Hudson, Mr. Cherry, Mr. Steel, and former councilman Shaun Enright were endorsed by the Lucas County Democratic Party to fill vacant council seats at different times, and each was appointed by a council majority.

A troubled history didn’t deter Democrats from appointing Mr. Enright on Jan. 8, 2013, to a vacant at-large council seat. He was convicted in 1999 of illegally carrying a concealed handgun and in 2004 he declared personal bankruptcy.

Other interest

Eight other people want the District 4 appointment.

The Lucas County Republican Party endorsed Alfonso Narvaez, 23, of 2019 North Ontario St. Mr. Narvaez is a Home Depot employee who ran for an at-large council seat in 2013, but lost in the primary.

Also interested in the seat are:

● Scott Sands, 45, of 505 Jefferson Ave., an afternoon host on News Radio 1370 WSPD.

● Jewell Lightner, a former board president of the Toledo Board of Community Relations.

● Terry Shankland, 69, of 851 Islington St., a Toledo catering business owner and a repeat candidate for local political office.

● Stephen L. Goldman of 145 South St. Clair St., a former University of Toledo professor.

● David Johnson of 520 Pulaski St., a University of Toledo professor.

● Khali Maddox-Abdegeo of 2511 North Detroit Ave., who did not list a profession on his letter of interest.

● Scott Ramsey of 2627 Collingwood Blvd., owner of Dart Boat Co., a Toledo manufacturer of mahogany speedboats and components.

The District 4 seat will be up for a special election in May to fill the remainder of Ms. Hicks-Hudson’s term, which expires at the end of 2015. 

There will be a primary in September and general election in November for new four-year terms for all six council district seats.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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