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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

2 got requests for Sanders' fund

BY TOM TROY AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Two Toledo businessmen said yesterday they were asked to contribute to a fund to try to retain Eugene Sanders as superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner called one of them after he declined to help.

William Brennan, president of Associated General Contractors, said he was asked by businessman Bob Maxwell about two weeks ago if his board would contribute $5,000 a year for two years. He said he quickly polled his board and reported back to Mr. Maxwell that the board declined. He was called that same day by Mayor Finkbeiner.

"He called to express his displeasure that we did not participate. He thought we were being shortsighted," Mr. Brennan said.

The mayor has confirmed he investigated ways of getting Mr. Sanders to stay in Toledo and to turn down a lucrative job offer from Cleveland public schools, but he has sidestepped the question of whether he solicited anyone for money.

Yesterday, he rejected suggestions that his efforts might have been illegal.

"That is absolutely laughable," the mayor said. "I have no idea where someone came up with that."

Julia Bates, Lucas County prosecutor, said she would look into whether the effort to organize a fund to supplement Mr. Sanders' salary was within the law.

State law prohibits a public official from soliciting or accepting any compensation other than what is provided by law to perform his public duties.

Also contacted by Mr. Maxwell about the same time was Jim Yark, president of Yark Automotive Group. Mr. Yark said he agreed to contribute money but would not say how much. Asked if it was $5,000, he said it might have been more and it might have been less.

Mr. Yark said he had a five-minute conversation with Mr. Maxwell, and nothing occurred as a result. He said he would have made sure any such contribution was legal but did not know whether that issue had been researched, or how the fund would have been set up.

Mr. Maxwell did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.

The mayor launched an aggressive, but futile, effort in March to persuade the school board to take a vote of confidence in Mr. Sanders to keep him from accepting the Cleveland offer.

As part of that effort, he formed a group of citizens, including Mr. Maxwell, to build public support for Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Sanders has confirmed that Mayor Finkbeiner tried to create an incentive package to keep him from resigning. The superintendent said "everything was very preliminary, [and] nothing was concrete."

Mr. Sanders, TPS superintendent for nearly six years, announced his resignation in December, effective Aug. 31, and has been offered the chief executive officer job running the public school system in Cleveland.

Mayor Finkbeiner said there was some discussion with University of Toledo President Dan Johnson about offering Mr. Sanders a "visiting professorship."

He also said there was some discussion to secure the superintendent the use of a vehicle.

"I think that was explored," the mayor said. "We felt that the mayors, county commissioners, presidents of universities - a number of people in leadership positions are provided with an automobile."

Mr. Sanders, 49, is paid a base salary of $147,767 annually, but his total compensation equals $194,179. That figure includes a $6,000 annual car allowance.

His Cleveland salary is under negotiation between attorneys for Mr. Sanders and the school district. But the former Cleveland superintendent, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, was paid an annual base salary of $278,000.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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