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Published: Monday, 10/6/2003

2 agencies' merger is an issue in council race

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The merger of Toledo's Department of Development with the Department of Neighborhoods has emerged as an issue in the City Council elections Nov. 4.

Two Republican council candidates said oversight of the combined Department of Economic and Community Development is distracting Director Steven Seaton from job-creation efforts.

But Democrats said the department is coming into its own and will ensure that neighborhood and big-ticket development take place in partnership.

District 2 Councilman Rob Ludeman and Republican at-large candidate David Dmytryka said the merger last year has not worked out.

“We have just got to have somebody who devotes full time to recruiting and trying to maintain business here in Toledo, and I don't think that's being accomplished as well as it should,” Mr. Ludeman said.

Mr. Ludeman is running for re-election from District 2 against Democrat Christy Cole.

Mr. Dmytryka said, “If that department splits up and becomes two units again, I think there'd be more focus on economic development.”

He is running for one of the at-large seats held by Democratic Councilmen Karyn McConnell and Frank Szollosi, who were appointed this year.

Council voted 12-0, including Mr. Ludeman, in November to merge the two departments.

The merger was an initiative of Mayor Jack Ford, who felt the two agencies had overlapping functions.

Development was supposed to recruit businesses, while Neighborhoods was in charge of housing and neighborhood development.

However, both got funding from the same federal grant, had inspection functions, made loans, and had oversight of downtown development.

“There was always inherent tension and conflict between those two departments,” Mr. Ford said yesterday. “It would be a critical mistake to split that department.”

Mr. Ford said Mr. Seaton has been active in a series of economic successes, and said recent appointees will share some of Mr. Seaton's work, including Tom Crothers as deputy director and Steve Best as project manager for the Marina District.

Mr. Ludeman said he believes Mr. Seaton is being pulled in two directions and that projects like the sale of Southwyck Shopping Center to Westfield America Trust are suffering.

He said the city needs someone to recruit a replacement for Sears Roebuck & Co., which has backed out as a potential anchor of Southwyck, leaving only Dillard's.

“The only missing piece is the second anchor,” Mr. Ludeman said. “I would think an economic development director would have the ties in the national business community to try to push that forward.”

Westfield said in February it planned to buy Southwyck. The plan was conditioned on Sears opening a new department store in Southwyck.

Mr. Ford attributed the delay in concluding the sale to a dispute between Dillard's and Sears and said the department soon would take some action.

Mr. Szollosi and Ms. McConnell also rejected suggestions of returning to two different departments. Ms. Cole could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Szollosi said if Mr. Dmytryka wants to blame someone for sluggish economic development, he should blame President Bush for the state of the economy.

“Our last [mayor] had a Democratic president whose economy was high-flying. This administration is under a Republican president who has sent the economy into a tailspin,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Ms. McConnell said the merged department allows for synergy in development. She said businesses and employers want good neighborhoods to sell their products and for their employees to live in.

“I think the way we have it set up is more cost-effective,” she said.



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