Friday, May 25, 2018
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Councilmen register discontent with mayor over Erie Street Market

A majority of Toledo City Council voted yesterday to urge Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to be more selective about the city's business partners.

The unusual move comes after the Finkbeiner administration launched an investigation into how nearly $80,000 was spent at the Erie Street Market to renovate it for use as a concert venue.

The resolution was approved 8-4, with Councilmen Mark Sobczak, Michael Ashford, Wilma Brown, and Phillip Copeland voting no.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, who wrote the resolution, has criticized the mayor over the past two weeks for selecting local promoter Robert Croak to book shows and events at the market's newly renovated Toledo Civic Theatre.

Mr. Collins said he doesn't believe Mr. Finkbeiner should have granted Croak free rein at the market because of his criminal history, including a 2002 felony forgery conviction, and thousands of dollars he owes in state and federal taxes.

"The only purpose this resolution serves, is it sends a message that eight out of 12 council members take exception to the mayor's failure to the process," Mr. Collins said.

The resolution states: "The mayor has also selected a promoter who has demonstrated his unworthiness to be a partner with the city by being non-tax-compliant."

Croak could not be reached for comment last night.

Robert Reinbolt, Mr. Finkbeiner's chief of staff, said the mayor takes everything council does seriously and would consider the resolution.

"We are working on the investigation, and until the investigation is complete and I have a recommendation in hand, I can't say what we are going to do," Mr. Reinbolt said.

The $79,879 in renovations at the market building located near downtown was split into 13 contracts, each below the $10,000 threshold above which the city charter requires council approval. Council members did not learn of the work until weeks later.

Mr. Collins said the project cost is likely to exceed $100,000.

The Finkbeiner administration today may decide whether the city must reinstall a ramp for an outdoor deck that was torn down, at Croak's suggestion, to enlarge the deck.

Mr. Ashford said he voted against the resolution because it lacked any means of enforcement.

"There has been an ongoing track record," Mr. Ashford said, alluding to the mayor. "You can send all the resolutions you want; he doesn't get it."

Also during last night's four-hour meeting, council voted to reject changes to Toledo law regulating convenience stores that would have greatly eased some of that law's provisions.

Mr. Sobczak and Councilman George Sarantou suggested changing the law after meeting three times with carryout owners who have sued the city over the law.

In June, U.S. District Judge James Carr granted a temporary restraining order against the law that was later extended to the end of August.

The law applies to stores smaller than 5,000 square feet selling food and beverages. Some merchants claim a requirement to submit surveillance video to police within eight hours constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure.

Mr. Sobczak and Mr. Sarantou said the changes were reasonable.

But before approving the motion to revise the law, council first voted 7-5 in favor of an amendment Councilman Joe McNamara offered that reinstated some of the measures Mr. Sobczak and Mr. Sarantou hoped to delete.

Those included requiring disclosure of corporate offices and ownership, keeping background checks at five years instead of shortening to two, requiring a camera be aimed at stores' cash registers, and prohibiting anyone convicted of a crime related to the business - such as food-stamp fraud or selling illegal drugs - from obtaining a carryout license.

Betty Shultz, Mr. Sobczak, Tom Waniewski, and Lindsay Webb joined Mr. Sobczak and Mr. Sarantou in voting against Mr. McNamara's amendment.

Council then voted 9-3 to actually change the law, as amended, with Mrs. Shultz, Mr. Waniewski, and Ms. Webb voting no.

Scott Ciolek, the store owners' attorney, said he was unsure what, if any, impact the changes would have on their lawsuit.

In other business, council:

•Voted 8-4 against taking immediate action to authorize a $1.5 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield loan to developer Larry Dillin to be used for environmental cleanup at the former Southwyck Shopping Center.

Mr. Ashford said the Finkbeiner administration would violate the loan fund's original intent and urged immediate consideration and rejection of the measure. Councilman Frank Szollosi, Mike Craig, and Mr. McNamara joined Mr. Ashford in unsuccessfully seeking an immediate vote last night.

•Voted 5-7 against increasing the Toledo Municipal Court budget by $175,000 for pretrial services, drug testing, and security. Mrs. Shultz, Mr. Sobczak, Mr. Waniewski, Ms. Webb, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Sarantou comprised the majority.

The seven municipal court judges filed a petition last month in Ohio's Sixth District Court of Appals against the city, Mayor Finkbeiner, and the 12 council members. The judges asked the appellate court to require Toledo to fund the programs and contracts they consider necessary to protect the public while in the courthouse.

The $175,000 would have reinstated budget cuts and allowed the court to continue to contract with the Lucas County Sheriff's Office for security services.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

or 419-724-6171.

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