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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2010

Longtime Lucas County official to serve as Sylvania Twp. administrator

BY DAVID PATCH
AND CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

John Zeitler, the county's director of management and budget for the last 26 of his 31 years in the county finance department, will retire from county employment Oct. 29 and then start as township administrator Nov. 8. He has lived in Sylvania Township for 18 years.

"I'm really excited about this job," he told the trustees before their unanimous vote. "I just thought this would be the perfect match for me with my abilities and skills."

Mr. Zeitler had informed the Lucas County commissioners earlier in the day of his intent to accept the Sylvania Township post.

"This is something that would challenge me. It's my local community," he said. "I feel I can make a difference out there."

Mr. Zeitler's retirement occurs when the county is struggling with budget deficits that have led to cutbacks that include staff layoffs and voluntary furlough days. The county's 2010 revenue is expected to come up $4.6 million short of early-year projections, including about $2 million less in sales tax.

The director, himself on a furlough day yesterday, said the last several years have been the most difficult he's experienced while working for the county, but the economic slump is not why he's leaving.

While Mr. Zeitler, 58, will take a $3,634 salary cut to accept the $90,000 township position, his retirement from county employment makes him eligible for an Ohio Public Employees' Retire-ment System pension as well. He said he did not yet know what his monthly pension benefit would be.

Because he is changing employers, he is not subject to a 30-day waiting period required for public employees who retire and then return to their old jobs.

In overseeing a community with 156 employees and a $24 million budget, Mr. Zeitler will succeed Hugh Thomas, who was dismissed "without cause" by the township trustees in July. Trustees said they fired Mr. Thomas because they were dissatisfied with how he communicated with them about problems with a firehouse construction project.

Among his first tasks with the township will be helping the trustees find replacements for Police Chief Robert Metzger, who retired in early September, and Fire Chief Frederick Welsh, who resigned last week.

The township also faces contract negotiations with several of its employee unions, and Mr. Zeitler was allowed to attend a closed-door trustees' discussion about negotiation strategy after signing the job offer.

"You're going to have to hit the ground running. We've got a lot of things up in the air in the township," trustee John Jennewine told Mr. Zeitler.

Under employment terms he negotiated with the township, Mr. Zeitler will receive four weeks' annual vacation, including one week still to be taken this year. His township employment is conditioned on a performance review after six months, and he will be an at-will employee of the township trustees.

Mr. Zeitler said he plans to have most of a 2011 budget prepared for Lucas County before he leaves office. He told the township trustees he hopes to be available to them before his official Nov. 8 start date to learn the ropes in the township.

Under his watch, the Lucas County budget office has been awarded a "Distinguished Budget Presentation Award" by the Government Finance Officers Association every year since 2000.

Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon-Wozniak expressed sadness at Mr. Zeitler's departure and praised his management of the county's budget department.

"He's had a stellar career," Ms. Wozniak said. "Probably nothing was more difficult than the last several years … He was very poised through that process."

County Commissioner Pete Gerken, who is on vacation in Florida this week, sent out a statement praising Mr. Zeitler.

"He will be sorely missed," Commissioner Gerken said. "He has helped us through some extremely hard times these past few years, and his three decades of tireless service to the people of Lucas County cannot be commended enough."

Ms. Wozniak said no successor has been chosen yet, but the county will likely look for an internal candidate.

However, county Commissioner Ben Konop said he will push for a broader search that would include reaching out to external candidates and younger people. Mr. Konop said he would like the next director to have a public-accounting certification from the state. Mr. Zeitler majored in accounting at the University of Toledo but is not a CPA.

While thanking Mr. Zeitler for his service, Mr. Konop said the director's departure could provide an opportunity for reorganizing the budget office and changing the way the county allocates funds.

Mr. Konop said he believes the county's budget crisis has been overblown, and pointed to the county's $13 million reserve fund in addition to other surpluses, which he said are unnecessarily high.

"There's certainly a lot of pots of money out there," Mr. Konop said, questioning the necessity of layoffs and furlough days. Other county officials say reserve funds have taken a hit over the past few years and need to be handled cautiously. The $13 million in the general reserve fund has declined from $25 million in 2008.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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