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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Ashford: Mayor has record of bias

BY TOM TROY AND
IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Toledo's African-American community is frustrated with the city, at least one black minister is praying for the city, and Councilman Michael Ashford says Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has a record of discrimination.

Mr. Ashford, reacting yesterday to the finding of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission that Mr. Finkbeiner retaliated against three black employees last year by firing two and laying one off, said the findings are nothing new with the mayor.

"He was found guilty of discrimination in his first two terms. There were many lawsuits filed against him," said Mr. Ashford, one of three black city councilmen. He was ousted as president on Jan. 2 in favor of Councilman Mark Sobczak after the mayor broke a tie vote in Mr. Sobczak's favor.

Councilman Ashford said he believed racial discrimination was a factor in Mr. Finkbeiner's decision to get rid of the three employees.

The civil rights commission determined on Thursday that it found "probable cause" to believe that discrimination for engaging in a "prior protected activity" occurred in the firings of Mrs. Griffin and Dwayne Morehead, a former co-executive director of the youth commission, and the layoff of Gary Daugherty, a former manager of environmental services. The commission concluded illegal discrimination had occurred, but not racial discrimination.

In Mrs. Griffin's case, the "protected activity" appeared to be her involvement in behalf of another African-American city employee with a discrimination complaint against the administration. For Mr. Morehead and Mr. Daugherty, their protected activity centered on their association with Mrs. Griffin, which they contended put them on the wrong side of the mayor.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that neither he nor the city retaliated against the three employees.

"Of course we would have loved to have the OCRC ask the four or five principals that made the ultimate decision in terms of termination. We would have been elated to have someone ask us, but no one did," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

"We are delighted, but not surprised, we were found not guilty of racial discrimination or age discrimination," he said.

He said the two terminations and one layoff "were very factually based in every way, shape, or form and not retaliation in any shape or form." And he said the commission was "seemingly one-sided."

A series of perceived affronts to the black community, not all of them involving Mayor Finkbeiner, prompted the return last month of the Rev. Floyd Rose, who was a Toledo civil rights activist before relocating to Georgia in 1995.

Mr. Rose told a rally of about 150 people that black voters should show their displeasure with the city's treatment of them by voting down the renewal of a 0.75 percent income tax that will be on the ballot March 4.

Yesterday, Mr. Rose said Mr. Finkbeiner has a problem and the civil rights commission's finding is evidence of that.

"More charges have been found against the Carty Finkbeiner administrations, both of them, with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and lawsuits against his office during his tenure than any other administration in history," Mr. Rose asserted. "I think the mayor's in denial and you can't fix a problem until you face it."

City Council President Sobczak said he would withhold judgment until the commission's investigation is complete. It is not clear whether the commission will do more investigation or if the complaint now will be turned over to an administrative law judge.

"Floyd's entitled to his opinion. He's just misinformed as to the seriousness of the passage of the 3/4 percent and how it'll have a dramatic impact on the city," Mr. Sobczak said.

Councilman Joe McNamara agreed the controversy doesn't contribute to passage of the tax levy. "I think the African-American community is upset with Mayor Finkbeiner and some of his divisive political maneuvering," he said.

"Politically, I think this has hurt the mayor for sure. Even if it's reversed, it shows that at least one independent body says there are problems in the administration," Mr. McNamara said.

The Rev. Cedric Brock, pastor of Mount Nebo Baptist Church, president of the Interdenominational Ministers' Alliance of Toledo, said he would pray for a "healing process for the community as well as city government."

"I feel bad that three lost [their] jobs and are going through this because of the mayor's anger, if it be so," Pastor Brock said. "This is an ongoing story and the community is inquisitive about what's going on, and if they were discriminated against, they want them to get their jobs back."

Paul Hubbard, interim president of the Urban League of Greater Toledo, said his organization hasn't taken a position on the newly released finding, but said such a ruling from the civil rights commission isn't to be taken lightly.

"The civil rights commission, particularly in a high-profile case like this, wouldn't jeopardize their good reputation without doing due diligence," Mr. Hubbard said.

Councilman Phil Copeland, also an African-American, said the black community is indeed mired in frustration. He said that in his 30-year acquaintance with Mr. Finkbeiner, he has not given him the impression that he is a bigot.

"I know they're very, very frustrated in the black community. I haven't seen it this way out there in a long time. That's why they brought Floyd Rose back," Mr. Copeland said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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