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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Both sides argue merits of '9 is fine' proposal

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Proponents and opponents of Issue 2 on next week's primary election ballot, which would reduce the size of Toledo City Council from a dozen members to nine, offered new reasons yesterday for and against the proposed charter amendment.

Lonnie Homan, a Block Watch leader from North Toledo who lives on North Superior Street, said it would be a mistake to discard the system with six at-large councilmen and six district councilmen and replace it with a council eventually made up of all district councilmen.

"Nine is not fine for this neighborhood - for this district, which is District 4," Mr. Homan said. "We get no response from our district councilman, but we get more support from our at-large councilmen."

During a news conference yesterday, Mr. Homan and several of his neighbors said reducing the representation is the wrong direction to take.

"If it takes 12 jurors to convict or not convict, how can we run a city with just nine?" he asked.

Under city law, the top 12 vote-getters in Tuesday's primary will advance to the Nov. 3 ballot.

The top six vote-getters would win seats on council. Under the "Nine is Fine" proposed amendment to the Toledo charter, only the top six vote-getters would be on the Nov. 3 ballot, and only three of those would be elected.

They would serve two years rather than four-year terms.

At the end of those two years, their at-large seats would be converted to "super-district" seats, each made up of two council districts and new elections would be held, resulting in a council of six district councilmen and three super-district councilmen.

The "Nine Is Fine" amendment was put on the ballot by a group called Citizens Organized to Bring Reform and Accountability.

Democratic Councilman Lindsay Webb, Republican Councilman Tom Waniewski, and Dave Schulz, treasurer of the group, argued during their news conference yesterday that switching their system would attract better candidates.

"It really boils down to the quality of a candidate, not the quantity," Mr. Waniewski said.

The two councilmen said at-large candidates rely to heavily on monetary donations rather than door-to-door campaigning.

"Our system will lead to better candidates and lower the barrier - the barrier being money - of entry for new people," Ms. Webb said. "By having smaller geographic areas to cover, the money would turn downward."

The nine at-large candidates in 2005 raised $327,553 and the nine district candidates in 2007 raised $192,842.

Mr. Schulz cited two scandals involving at-large councilmen as support for the measure.

Councilman Betty Shultz was convicted in June, 2006, of a misdemeanor ethics charge of failing to disclose that former GOP fund-raiser Tom Noe paid $1,950 for her ticket to a fund-raising event for President Bush in October, 2003. She was fined $1,000 plus court costs.

Former longtime councilman Democrat Bob McCloskey in 2006 resigned just before entering pleas leading to his conviction and imprisonment for bribery.

"Money has corrupted our political process," Mr. Schulz said.

"The drive for re-election made these two individuals compromise their ethics. Mrs. Shultz received thousands of dollars from Tom Noe and another conduit in the Noe affair while McCloskey used pay-to-play to secure campaign donations."

Although Mr. McCloskey resigned from an at-large seat, he was actually a district councilman when the bribe was taken.

A coalition of current and former Toledo councilmen, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and the Lucas County Democratic Party have all come out against the Nine is Fine proposal.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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