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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2001

Ford heralds commitment to city business community

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor-elect Jack Ford declared yesterday that Toledo's business community will “be absolutely delighted” with the changes made in city government by his administration, but he gave little clue as to what those changes entail.

Mr. Ford announced members of a business advisory committee to help in the transition to his administration on Jan. 1. Also yesterday, he said:

  • His first priority as mayor will be to establish a city ethics policy, prompted in part by the Beacon Place controversy.

  • City council should delay approval of a five-year, $35 million engineering consulting contract with the Black & Veatch Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., until he becomes mayor.

    The business transition team members are Mike Anderson, president and chief executive officer of The Andersons; Betsy Brady, vice president of Plastic Technologies, Inc., and chairwoman of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce; Robert Sullivan, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank of Northwest Ohio; Clint Longenecker, professor of management at the University of Toledo; Ronald Thompson, chairman and CEO of Midwest Stamping Inc.; Vince Davis, CEO of a State Farm Insurance agency in Toledo; Jacqueline Martin, executive director of the Lucas County Mental Health Board, and James Hoffman, president of KeyBank in northwest Ohio.

    The mayor-elect previously announced the appointments of co-chairpersons for his transition team: Robert Savage, president of Savage & Associates, and Sue Wuest, a research associate for the UT Urban Studies Center.

    Mr. Ford said he plans to appoint transition teams to focus on public safety, neighborhoods, housing, city services, natural resources, and the arts.

    “The campaign is over, but I'm going to listen very closely to the voters, and they gave me 60 percent of the vote, so we're going to go with our plans. We're going to have a more business approach at city hall,” Mr. Ford said. “I think the business community will be absolutely delighted with some of the changes that we're going to make.”

    Mr. Ford said he looks to the team to advise him on business practices that could be adapted to make government operate better.

    He said he will name a chief financial officer, a title typically found in corporations, rather than a finance director, whose job is to oversee the city budget.

    The mayor-elect said he will expand the city's risk management office beyond insurance and workers compensation to include oversight of deals with developers. He said he is concerned that the city may end up bailing out housing projects downtown that run into financial problems.

    Mr. Ford said he intends to work with council to establish an ethics policy that requires city officials and employees to declare any conflicts of interest and to prevent “revolving-door” problems - city staffers leaving city employment and going to work for a company or individual doing business with the city. “It's time the city had its own ethics policy,” he said. “I think the Beacon Place deal occurred in part because we didn't have a strong ethics policy.”

    In 1999, the city had to forfeit a $230,000 deposit, and could be forced to pay more, because of a failed deal to convert the Beacon Place subsidized housing project in the central city into private homeownership.

    The city's involvement was negotiated in 1997 by former city housing commissioner James Thurston, who later went to work for one of the backers of the plan.

    Mr. Ford said the original idea for an ethics policy came from Council President Peter Ujvagi. Mr. Ujvagi, a major backer of Mr. Ford's campaign, said he has drafted an ethics ordinance that will spell out conflicts of interest to prevent undue influence as the city moves forward with the $400 million settlement of the 1991 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Mr. Ford called on council to hold off voting on the Black & Veatch contract until after Jan. 1. Council has been reviewing the proposed contract while under pressure from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to approve it before he leaves office Dec. 31.

    Council also is reviewing the proposed consent decree with the EPA that will usher in a 15-year period of construction of sewer facilities.

    “My sense is the Black & Veatch contract should be signed after I am sworn in,” Mr. Ford said. “If I'm going to live with it as mayor, I should have some say-so.”

    The push to get the contract signed quickly hit a snag last week when a coalition of minority groups charged that the proposed agreement with Black & Veatch does not ensure that black and female-owned firms will share in the $400 million worth of business.

    Mr. Finkbeiner, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has acknowledged that was an oversight. His staff was meeting yesterday with the Northwest Ohio Black Chamber of Commerce to draft an amendment to the contract.



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