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Published: Friday, 10/26/2001

Toledo council bounces credit-disclosure idea

City council members have not always agreed on issues brought before them, but a request for individual credit histories has brought them together to produce a resounding chorus of “No!”

“I'm going to run on my legislative record and my service to the community,” Pete Gerken, at-large council member, said. He said his credit history “is not pertinent” to the campaign.

But Carol Buno, a Democrat running for one of six at-large seats, agreed to the review. A bus driver for TARTA, she was the only candidate or council member to agree.

“I think that anything I do financially affects me publicly,” she said. “I think it's a reflection of my character.”

City council members are responsible, along with the mayor, for managing the city's $400 million annual budget, including setting spending priorities, borrowing money, and passing appropriation measures.

No law requires council candidates to approve the release of their credit history. Other financial information - contained in property and court records - are public. And council members are required to file a financial disclosure form annually with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Last week, The Blade requested permission from mayoral candidates Jack Ford and Ray Kest to check their credit reports. They complied.

The check showed that Mr. Kest and his wife had $81,000 in credit-card debt and Mr. Ford and his wife had $11,500 in credit-card debt. The story caught the eye of nationally syndicated radio commentator Paul Harvey, who mentioned it during his shows Wednesday.

Council members Wilma Brown, Betty Shultz, Rob Ludeman, Louis Escobar, Bob McCloskey, Art Jones, Gene Zmuda, Wade Kapszukiewicz, and Mr. Gerken declined to give the newspaper permission to review their credit histories. Council candidates George Sarantou, Terry Shankland, Ed Cichy, Patrick Desmond, Scott Robinson, and David Dmytryka also declined.

“I consider this personal information and [it] will not have any bearing on my ability to act as a city councilman in Toledo,” Mr. Dmytryka said. He is a Republican running against District 5 councilwoman Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat.

Almost all of the candidates and council members decried the request and said the information is too personal for review. Others said it would reveal information about spouses who are not public figures.

Mr. Sarantou, a Republican seeking an at-large seat, said he would not agree to the release.

“I don't think it's relevant,” he said. “Why does the newspaper need to have my credit report for a part-time municipal office? Did the newspaper ask for [U.S. Rep. Marcy] Kaptur's credit report? [Gov. Bob] Taft's? [U.S. Senator George] Voinovich's?”

Mr. Sarantou said he has complied with the Ohio Ethics Commission's reporting requirements and sees no reason to exceed those requests with anything more “intrusive” on his private life.

Mr. Shankland, a Democratic at-large challenger, said he wouldn't authorize a credit check, even though he said he had a “great” credit rating and doesn't owe anyone money.

“Not in a million years,” Mr. Shankland said. “I'll take a drug test, I'll pee in a bottle, I'll take a follicle test, but that credit rating is none of their ... business. That's my business and my wife's business, but not [The Blade's].”

Mr. Kapszukiewicz, however, said he is not opposed philosophically to releasing the information and said his credit is good. But he said he does not want to take any steps that would leave him “looking like a jerk to the rest of council.”

If he were running for mayor or Congress, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he would release the information because he would be accountable only to himself.

Council members are paid $18,500 a year. After the election, they will be paid $27,500.

They said yesterday that they do not want to follow the lead of the mayoral candidates.

Mr. Ujvagi, council president the last four years, said the part-time nature of the city council should not trigger such a review. He would agree to a credit check “as soon as I run for mayor.” Mr. Ujvagi considered, but then declined, to run for the post that Mr. Kest and Mr. Ford now seek.



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