The staff of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found "probable cause" that the administration of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner discriminated against three black city officials when they were fired last year.
Perlean Griffin, former executive director of Affirmative Action/Contract Compliance; Dwayne Morehead, former co-executive director of the Youth Commission, and Gary Daugherty, a former manager in environmental services, all complained to the agency after they were let go.
The three firings head the list of grievances to the black community claimed by civil rights preacher Floyd Rose, who has called for black voters to defeat renewal of the city's 0.75 percent income tax when it comes up for a vote March 4.
A spokesman for the civil rights board in Columbus said the board could take up the Toledo discrimination case as early as Thursday.
Toni Delgado said the staff would recommend the full board approve a finding of probable cause of discrimination.
Such a finding would only be one step in a lengthy process aimed at getting the complainants' their jobs back, or awarding them back pay.
If the board approves the finding, the city could ask for reconsideration.
If after reconsideration the commission still supports the finding, it would be reviewed independently by an administrative law judge. If the law judge upholds the probable cause finding, it would be referred to the Ohio attorney general, who would decide whether to file a case in one of Ohio's common pleas courts.
Mr. Finkbeiner's spokesman, Brian Schwartz, declined comment last night.
Ms. Griffin was fired March 6, 2007, after she objected to the demotion of the Office of Affirmative Action/Contract Compliance from the department level to a division within the Department of Human Resources, and a reduction in pay from $70,000 to $67,000.
The move was one of several steps taken to reduce a threatened deficit of $11.9 million.
At the time, she said she told the mayor, "there will be public hearings on this matter and I can't agree to anything at this time."
Ms. Griffin could not be reached for comment.
In his letter of dismissal, Mr. Finkbeiner said he valued her as an employee and friend, but "in recent days, you have indicated an unwillingness to support key initiatives of my administration. In fact, you have even refused to meet with me and key members of my staff regarding recent issues."
Mr. Morehead said in his discrimination charge that he was threatened with firing if he contacted Mrs. Griffin.
Mr. Morehead was fired in August for "job abandonment" for failing to go to work. He said he was sick.
Mr. Daugherty was one of the 23 employees who received 30-day layoff notices in March, 2007, during a budget-cutting move.
He said Mr. Finkbeiner told him he was being laid off because he was perceived as lazy.
Mr. Daugherty said he was paid less than other managers and believed his layoff was because of his involvement in a case involving a black woman investigated by the affirmative action/contract compliance office and his personal relationship with Mrs. Griffin.
All three had been active volunteers in Mr. Finkbeiner's successful 2005 campaign to unseat Mayor Jack Ford, Toledo's first black mayor.
Mr. Rose, a former Baptist minister in Toledo who moved to Valdosta, Ga., in 1995, last week attended a rally in a Toledo church where he helped found a new chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Mrs. Griffin is president. He also called for the defeat of the important tax renewal.
Mr. Rose yesterday sought to dampen the controversy, noting that the city will have another chance in November to approve the tax before it expires in 2009, if it is defeated at the March election.
The tax raises $57.7 million a year - about a quarter of the revenue the city needs to pay for police and fire protection, trash collection, and general government services.
"Nobody's trying to kill anything. Nobody's trying to break the city. They'll have another opportunity in November and they'll have about 10 months to negotiate and remedy some of these wrongs and then we can work together to get the tax passed," Mr. Rose said.
In what he called an open letter to Toledo citizens, he said he has been contacted by citizens of color to return and provide leadership.
"Their cup of endurance had run over, and they were drinking from the saucer of frustration," he wrote.
Mr. Rose's list of complaints also includes the mayor's involvement in the ouster of black Councilman Michael Ashford as council president Jan. 2 in favor of white Councilman Mark Sobczak; a proposal to cut funds to the Office of the Public Defender, which "will likely result in more innocent people being convicted, the majority of whom will be black," and the mayor's opposition to allocating $65,000 to CareNet, a nonprofit cooperative with area medical providers to serve uninsured Lucas County residents.
The 0.75-percent tax renewal could be in trouble if black voters really do vote against it or even sit out the election.
It was last renewed in 2004 by a vote of 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent, and the wards with the highest percentages of yes votes were black neighborhoods in the central part of the city.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.
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