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Published: Tuesday, 9/1/2009

LCIC hires new president in public vote

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"We - I guess the phrase is - beg forgiveness," said Joseph H. Zerbey IV, chairman of the agency's executive committee. "It was done with a new chair and without the proper counsel. It was a mistake and we will be very careful about watching that in the future."

At the start of yesterday's meeting, Mr. Zerbey introduced Ford Weber as the agency's new president and chief executive officer.

After being asked by a Blade reporter when the vote to hire the 49-year-old Mr. Weber had occurred, board officials decided to hold a second, official vote to comply with state law.

Mr. Zerbey, who is also president and general manager of The Blade, acknowledged that the board erred by voting in private two weeks ago and then again by announcing the appointment yesterday of Mr. Weber without an official vote.

Mr. Weber previously held positions with the city of Toledo before taking jobs in Virginia.

He will be paid $109,000 a year to run the agency, which leads economic development initiatives for Lucas County and several villages, cities, and townships in the county.

The Lucas County Improvement Corp. board met Aug. 18 at the Toledo Country Club in South Toledo for a "special meeting-luncheon," during which it voted in private to hire John Hagen, the economic development director of Surprise, Ariz.

"The discussion continued concerning references presented for review by each candidate," the minutes of the closed meeting state. "A long discussion concerning each candidate for consideration after which a vote was taken."

Seven members voted for Mr. Hagen and two voted for Mr. Weber.

Baldemar Velasquez and Mary Jo Waldock were not at the meeting and cast their votes by proxy.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, an LCIC supporter, said yesterday the vote was a way to determine with which candidate the board should negotiate.

"I would use that as a roll call rather than a vote," Mr. Gerken said.

Details of the executive session vote inadvertently were printed in the minutes for the meeting.

Board member Keith Burwell objected yesterday to the vote details being included in the minutes and the board agreed to remove the information from the official record.

Mr. Zerbey then asked county Administrator Mike Beazley to retrieve a copy of the meeting minutes given to a Blade reporter, who refused to relinquish the document.

Public bodies are permitted to discuss hiring in private, but state law requires votes to be held in public.

"A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body," Ohio law states.

Mr. Zerbey said Mr. Hagen withdrew his name from consideration after the Aug. 18 vote because the two sides could not agree on compensation.

At yesterday's meeting, after acknowledging the error of hiring Mr. Weber without a vote, Mr. Zerbey called for a new vote. The board voted unanimously to hire Mr. Weber.

Since the resignation of Shawn Ferguson in October, 2007, the LCIC has searched for a new president - but that effort came to a standstill in April, 2008, when the search committee's chairman, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, stepped down.

Matt Sapara, on loan from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority since January, 2008, has been the interim president of the Lucas County Improvement Corp.

Mr. Sapara will return to the port authority, where he was director of development.

The embattled LCIC has had funding problems and was the target of criticism by Mr. Konop, who claimed the agency has been inefficient and is a waste of taxpayer money.

The city of Toledo last year pulled most of its funding from the organization.

Mr. Konop voted against funding the Lucas County Improvement Corp. several times, but fellow commissioners Mr. Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak have voted to continue to fund the agency.

"If any organization should err on the side of openness, it's the LCIC based on their previous issues," Mr. Konop said yesterday.

Mr. Weber resigned from his job as Toledo's commissioner of real estate in 2005 to become director of housing and neighborhood services for Roanoke, Va.

He then became executive director of Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Richmond, but was downsized out of that job earlier this year.

He said he also did a stint in Toledo's law department as a senior attorney specializing in real estate law, and he led the city's brownfield redevelopment program.

Mr. Weber said he has been dividing his time between Toledo and Richmond, because his wife still lives here in the house they own.

Before joining the city of Toledo, Mr. Weber practiced law for 14 years.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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