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Published: Friday, 5/26/2006

Ethics panel to look into mayor's role in Toledo Public Schools case

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ohio Ethics Commission will investigate whether Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's failed effort to boost the compensation for and retain former Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders violated state law.

David Freel, the commission's executive director, said yesterday that Mr. Finkbeiner has indicated he will be fully cooperative in the investigation. Mr. Finkbeiner declined comment yesterday.

The mayor acknowledged earlier this month in a letter to the commission that he led a group of "community leaders" who were trying to put together a compensation package that would have offset the extra $80,000 a year Mr. Finkbeiner said was being offered by Cleveland Public Schools to hire Mr. Sanders.

The mayor said he was un-aware at the time that Ohio law prohibits supplementing the salary of a public official. At issue is Ohio Revised Code 2921.43, which prohibits a public servant from soliciting, and a citizen from promising or giving, anything of value to "supplement the public servant's public compensation."

Violation of the law is a misdemeanor of the first degree and would bar anyone convicted of it from holding public office for seven years.

Mr. Finkbeiner told the commission in his letter that while Mr. Sanders was informed of the effort to keep him, the only firm proposal made was an offer from the University of Toledo for Mr. Sanders to teach during the summer.

"I think it's fair to say that this whole effort was kind of stopped in mid-process as we can understand, so the commission is aware of that," Mr. Freel said.

"So whether there is a violation of any law, we don't know. We want to do our due diligence to make sure that the law is enforced and applied."

Mr. Freel also suggested that Mr. Finkbeiner's cooperation during the investigation could play in his favor as well.

"Where public officials are open and responsive to [the panel's] inquiries, it's helpful not only to us, but to the public," Mr. Freel said.

"The fact that this effort did not go to its completion is a factor on whether there's any potential violation. We just want to assure for the citizens of Toledo or the state that the law is being applied for the protection of citizens and ethics law is being adhered to by everybody."

He said if the commission finds that there was a possible violation, the case will be referred to the Toledo prosecutor's office.

The commission also could decide there was insufficient evidence to say the law was broken, or it can order an alternate resolution.

Teresa Graven, Mr. Finkbeiner's spokesman, said the mayor had not heard from the ethics commission yesterday and won't have a comment on the matter until he does.

Mr. Sanders declined comment on the investigation yesterday. However, he reiterated that while the mayor attempted to create an incentive package to keep him in Toledo, there was never any money or package actually offered to him.

Rob Ludeman, president of Toledo City Council, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He had said earlier this month that the mayor did the right thing by initiating contact with the ethics commission.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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