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Agency's fate clouded by approaching mayoral vote

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With the Toledo mayoral election approaching fast, the fate of a recently forged city and county alliance to encourage economic development is now a "wild card," area officials say.

But steps were taken this week to see that the partnership stays strong in the short-run. A city ordinance was passed to help fund the Lucas County Improvement Corp., an agency Mayor Jack Ford and the Lucas County commissioners recently designated as the area's lead economic development agency.

Plans are to make the city's economic development director, Bill Carroll, the full-time executive director of the LCIC. City Council approved spending $170,000 in compensation Tuesday to support the position through the end of 2006. Mr. Carroll now holds the post on an interim basis.

County Commissioner Pete Gerken, who represents the county in the LCIC, said it is expected that Mr. Carroll will take the LCIC position until a nationwide search for a permanent executive is completed.

"He would have to resign from the city, which he said he's willing to do," Mr. Gerken said.

LCIC officials said they still have to negotiate a salary, though the allocation of $170,000 for 14 months allows for a big bump from Mr. Carroll's current $92,000 annual city salary. Mr. Ford said he thought between $125,000 and $140,000 was reasonable.

Mr. Carroll insisted the timing of the funding had more to do with keeping the LCIC's momentum going - the city/county partnership was just formalized in June - than any concerns over the outcome of the upcoming election.

But some LCIC members wonder about their fate should Mr. Ford be defeated by challenger and former strong mayor Carty Finkbeiner in November.

"The election's a wild card. I personally don't see Carty not supporting us, but you just don't know," LCIC board Chairman Jeannie Hylant said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who was Toledo mayor from 1994 through 2001, said the city/county partnership is a good idea, but added he doesn't know enough about it.

"The concept of merging the city and county economic development staff has merit," he said. "The key is keeping it apolitical - I don't want a board made up of political appointees."

Mr. Carroll was hired by the city in September, 2004, after he retired from a one-year stint as acting president of Dana Corp. Prior to that, he headed Dana's automotive systems group.

When he accepted the city economic development director position, Mr. Carroll predicted both the east-side Marina District and Southwyck Shopping Center would soon see significant development.

In March, Mr. Carroll said he had convinced the owners of Southwyck to sell the property, and he had two interested developers. In July, Larry Dillin, developer of Town Center at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, said he had plans for the site.

But some city officials say they're still awaiting results.

"He's a heck of a nice guy and he works very hard, but I haven't seen the great results that I anticipated," Councilman Betty Shultz said. "I see O-I [deciding to leave Toledo] as a failure, and I see Southwyck as a lack of accomplishment."

Others are happy with him.

"Bill not only talks the talk, he walks the walk," said Councilman Frank Szollosi, who chairs council's economic development committee and is a city representative on the LCIC. He credited Mr. Carroll with laying groundwork for actual development of the Marina District, including property acquisition, cleanup, and market studies.

Councilman Rob Ludeman, whose district includes Southwyck, called Mr. Carroll "the best hire the Ford administration made."

Mr. Finkbeiner said he has yet to reach a conclusion on Mr. Carroll's performance.

"I can say that the city of Toledo's economic development accomplishments have been miniscule," he said. "That may not be the fault of the director. I just don't know."

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050

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