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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

At retreat, Toledo City Council members vow to put rancor behind them

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Members of Toledo City Council yesterday shared personal experiences, listed goals, and designated "things to stop doing" in an attempt to end the rancor of recent weeks.

Nine of the 12 council members met for an informal retreat downtown with Clinton Longenecker, a University of Toledo professor who served as mediator. Councilmen Michael Ashford, Frank Szollosi, and Phil Copeland were not present.

In an exercise led by Mr. Long-

enecker, the councilmen each listed six significant factors in their lives.

Most members named family, community, and faith.

Among things to keep doing: "Stay positive," said Lindsay Webb; "keep thinking about constituents," said Tom Waniewski; "eliminate wasteful spending," said George Sarantou.

Among the things to stop - a longer list - were personal attacks and acrimony with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, the council president, and each other.

"Politics should stay at the door," said Councilman Betty Shultz.

Mr. Waniewski added, "At the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers, I think we need to stop being so mean to each other. In the last two weeks - holy moly."

At its organizational meeting Jan. 2, the council of eight Democrats, three Republicans, and an independent was divided 6-6 between electing either Mark Sobczak or Mr. Ashford as president. Mayor Finkbeiner broke the tie, handing the seat to Mr. Sobczak, a Democrat.

Yesterday, Councilman Joe McNamara said the process leading up to that tie vote was "the elephant in the room" no one was talking about. He urged members to be open about their views and, if they've pledged to vote one way, to stick with it.

Councilman Webb had cast the sixth vote to elect Mr. Sobczak president. Her vote shocked fellow Democrats and Mr. Ashford, to whom she had pledged support 90 minutes earlier.

Mr. Sobczak said yesterday's retreat was useful, but said council needs to meet again in the same setting within three weeks.

The meeting evolved into a brief discussion about the proposed 2008 city budget, the 0.75-percent income tax on the March 4 ballot, and the city's $5.50 monthly trash fee.

Mr. Sarantou said it was incumbent upon council to convince voters the income tax renewal is essential. The tax was first approved in 1982 and has been renewed regularly since then.

In 2007, council was split over the budget, voting 7-5, with those who voted no basing their opposition on the creation of a $5.50 monthly trash collection fee that was included in the budget. The mayor has requested to make the trash fee permanent this year, and council is expected to divide again over that question.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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