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Published: Wednesday, 6/23/2010

Speakers differ on change for Lucas County

Lucas County government is in need of change, several residents told the commissioners Tuesday, but - with each of the three commissioners backing a different plan - there was no consensus on the best way to bring it about.

Richard Ruppert, former president of the former Medical College of Ohio, which today is the University of Toledo Medical Center, told Commissioner Ben Konop he wasn't ready to endorse Mr. Konop's ambitious plan.

It would eliminate the commissioners and other elected officials except the prosecutor and judges, and the county would be run by an elected executive and 11 elected district representatives.

Dr. Ruppert said he wasn't sure he wanted an executive officer at the top of the county's personnel chart. He noted that many issues need to be addressed.

"How can we work together on school issues?" he asked rhetorically. His one fear was that nothing would happen, he added.

Dr. Ruppert and the other speakers appeared at an informal hearing in the commissioners' chamber in Government Center that attracted 13 attendees.

The Konop plan is modeled after one in place in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland.

Commissioner Pete Gerken favors electing a 15-member commission in November that would be charged with drafting a charter to be put to voters next year.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak proposes using the University of Toledo's Center for Urban Affairs to coordinate a community group that would draft a charter to put to the voters.

Steve Kowalik, a staff representative for AFSCME Council 8, told the commissioners his union represents 1,500 county employees. He said he opposes Mr. Konop's plan because a county executive officer would have too much power. The elected council, he said, "would be a rubber stamp to a county mayor."

Mr. Konop strongly defended his plan, maintaining it would make for a more efficient, accountable, and diverse county government. Lucas County's economic decline is advancing, he said, and incomes are below the state and national averages.

"We can still recover at this point. I'm not sure if three or four years from now we'll be able to," he said.

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