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Published: Saturday, 8/25/2007

Finkbeiner won't face prosecution over ethics

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Finkbeiner Finkbeiner
JETTA FRASER/THE TOLEDO BLADE / THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The ethics cloud hanging over Mayor Carty Finkbeiner since May, 2006, has lifted.

The Ohio Ethics Commission has recommended against prosecuting Mayor Finkbeiner over his effort last year to supplement the income of former Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders.

Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said, "there's going to be no prosecution on that."

She said she received the report from the commission in May and opted not to publicize the finding because she does not issue press releases when she decides not to prosecute someone.

Indeed, the mayor himself has never been told of the outcome, he said yesterday in a prepared statement to The Blade.

He said, "the initiative to attempt to persuade Dr. Eugene Sanders to remain in Toledo was supported by many business and civic leaders who felt Dr. Sanders had done a good job in his leadership of Toledo Public Schools."

Conviction of the misdemeanor statute under which the mayor was investigated would have barred Mr. Finkbeiner from holding office for seven years.

Under the city charter, when a mayor leaves office before his term is up, he is replaced by the president of City Council, and the vacancy is filled by voters in the next general election, which must be more than 90 days away.

The council president is Democrat Michael Ashford, who was elected Tuesday in a midterm challenge of former Council President Rob Ludeman, a Republican who had held the post since January, 2006.

The move came amid an effort by the Ohio Democratic Party to unify the sometimes-warring Democrats on City Council, who hold eight of the 12 seats.

David Freel, executive director of the ethics panel, confirmed the investigation was finished.

"There was insufficient evidence of a violation by the mayor or anybody else of state law," Mr. Freel said.

He said the commission is considering using the instance as an example of what not to do.

"The commission has talked about putting out an educational piece for public officials looking at questions dealing with attracting and retaining public talent at public agencies, schools, or universities," he said.

The purpose of the law is to protect the public from officials having dual employers, "so the official's allegiance will be to the public by virtue of the fact their compensation comes from the public and not a third party," Mr. Freel said.

An investigative report submitted to the Lucas County prosecutor's office and provided to The Blade yesterday said there was no question that Mr. Finkbeiner participated in the effort to retain Mr. Sanders by working with local business and community leaders to put together a package to retain him.

But as mitigating factors, the report noted that nothing was ever provided to Mr. Sanders, and Mr. Sanders ended up accepting the job as superintendent of Cleveland Public Schools.

It noted that Mr. Finkbeiner believed, however mistakenly, that he was acting within the law and that he acknowledged publicly that he should not have participated in the effort.

In a contrite, two-page letter to the commission May 9, 2006, Mr. Finkbeiner acknowledged that his efforts on behalf of Mr. Sanders "could be misconstrued" as illegal and said he invited the investigation.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that, during a 10-day period in March, 2006, a group explored the possibility of assembling a package that included a car, a summer teaching job, and a retirement annuity in an effort to keep Mr. Sanders in Toledo, and offset the extra $80,000 a year Mr. Finkbeiner said was being offered by Cleveland Public Schools.

The mayor said he was unaware 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."

The commission's report sheds light on Mr. Sanders' decision to leave Toledo. It quotes one participant in the effort to retain the superintendent, Bernard "Pete" Culp, as saying that Mr. Sanders could not tolerate the criticism of school board members Darlene Fisher and Robert Torres, who were elected to the five-member board in 2005.

"Culp recalls that almost as soon as the two new board members took their seats, Sanders complained that he could not work with them and started looking for other employment," the investigative report said. Mr. Culp told the commission that having only three supportive board members undermined his efforts to improve the schools.

"Culp stated that this was mentioned many times by Sanders, how he needed that fourth vote to be able to effectively run the schools," the report said.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Culp confirmed his statements, and reiterated that efforts to lure Mr. Sanders to stay in Toledo without a more supportive board were never going to work.

"We could have given him a lot more money and he would not have stayed," Mr. Culp said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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