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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Port member offers apology for profanity in private talks

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Bernard "Pete" Culp, during an Oct. 15 executive session - when former port president Michael Stolarczyk's resignation was accepted and Paul Toth was named his successor - used a two-word expletive during talks on the process of hiring Mr. Stolarczyk 6 1/2 months ago and replacing him with Mr. Toth last week.

Details of the contentious Oct. 15 private meeting became public Thursday morning during the port board's regular meeting at Toledo Express Airport.

Board member Tom Palmer opened the meeting with remarks aimed at apparently smoothing over bad relations.

"We need to exhort ourself and insist we behave well collectively," Mr. Palmer said, without specifically referring to the incident.

After Mr. Palmer admiringly described each of the port board's members, member John Szuch more specifically said insults at the Oct. 15 meeting were out-of-bounds and inappropriate.

"I'm not going to maybe sugarcoat it like some others," Mr. Szuch said. "There were insults thrown out, there was name-calling, there was swearing. … I'm not used to being called names like that in board meetings."

Mr. Szuch added: "There were some threats made - one specifically to a board member who wasn't present and that kind of behavior in a board meeting is appalling to me."

Mr. Culp, who then acknowledged the discussion was about him, apologized to his fellow board members and admitted his vulgarity was wrong to use, but he still took his fellow board members to task.

"People should quit lying," he said. "There was a hoax run on the whole black community and some whites who also have some relationship to the black community."

Mr. Culp said he didn't know when board members were telling the truth or lying.

"We don't have to be friends but when you come to meetings and you are in an executive session, tell the truth and be honest and admit your mistakes and shortcomings," he said.

After the meeting, he explained why he used the vulgarity.

"Last week, they called an executive session to deal with Stolarczyk leaving, but they had sat on it for a week and they didn't tell me," Mr. Culp said.

"So when we go to the meeting, [Port Chairman] Bill Carroll makes this talk about accepting Stolarczyk's resignation for family reasons - which I don't believe is the only issue - and then he just automatically said we ought to appoint Paul Toth because we could lose him."

Mr. Stolarczyk had been one of three finalists to succeed James Hartung, along with Ricci L. Gardner, who had been an executive for Dana Corp. and is now the economic development director for the city of Toledo.

"I said, 'Why are we not advertising to fill the position,' and I think they thought I was talking about Ricci Gardner," Mr. Culp said. "Bill Carroll and Opie Rollison said no, that Ricci didn't even come in second and they said he was the top black who applied."

Mr. Culp said he believed Mr. Carroll had named Mr. Gardner as a top contender for the job 6 1/2 months ago when Mr. Stolarczyk was ultimately hired - only for appearances because Mr. Gardner is black.

Both Mr. Carroll and Mr. Rollison yesterday denied the accusations.

"No one ever said Ricci Gardner was number two, and so I don't know where he is getting that," Mr. Carroll said. "There is one thing I have and that is integrity and I don't lie."

Mr. Carroll said Mr. Culp has perceived things incorrectly.

"This is my second term on the port and I have no sense ever of any racism," he said. "[Mr. Culp] has his own methodology on how he purports himself on the board and it can be caustic."

Mr. Rollison, the board's vice chairman, said Mr. Toth was selected to succeed Mr. Stolarczyk because he is qualified to hold the post.

In other business, the port board agreed to purchase the parking garage for the vacant 28-story Fiberglas Tower building downtown for $10 and then lease it back to the owners of the building.

The owners of the building, George F. Eyde Limited Family Partnership, asked the port authority to take ownership of the garage to facilitate access to federal grants and to avoid state sales tax associated with the construction of a new garage.

"Simultaneously, the port authority would execute a lease agreement with an option to purchase with the Eydes for a period of 20 years," according to port records. "The port authority would be paid $200,000 up front for its ownership of the garage. In addition, there would be a transfer fee associated with the lease agreement."

The port board also agreed yesterday to:

•Pay Liebherr Nenzing Crane Co., of Switzerland $6.7 million for mobile harbor cranes at the general cargo facility of the Port of Toledo.

It will be paid for with a $6.8 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

•Spend $635,000 to cover various improvements, including external and internal lighting, at Toledo Express Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the port to use $985,000 of "Passenger Facility Charge" to make improvements to the terminal building. That included a $350,000 local share.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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