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Published: Thursday, 12/23/2010

City of Toledo dismisses intern involved in streetlight report

When Stephen Leggett tried to open his city of Toledo e-mail Wednesday he wasn't entirely surprised that it wouldn't work.

The city intern for the department of public service said he was let go Wednesday for his role in supplying a public record to a councilman -- something he said the Bell administration did not want to see happen.

"It is a public record that had to be provided and [Tom Crothers, director of public utilities] did try and hide it," Mr. Leggett charged Wednesday. "What I did was right. It was a public document and I think it's ridiculous the city would terminate me."

His internship with the city started in May and by August, he had completed a report on street light outages. Among his findings: 27 percent of the lamps were out, 25 percent didn't emit enough light, and 65 percent of the lights in five city parks were out.

After Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins requested a copy of the report from Mr. Leggett, he began an inquiry into why the city assesses residents and businesses for cost of all lights.

On Dec. 17, Mr. Leggett was subpoenaed by Mr. Collins to present his information to the council's Public Safety, Law, and Criminal Justice committee. During that meeting, Mr. Crothers acknowledged that some street lights throughout Toledo do not work, but he disputed Mr. Leggett's report that the number is as high as 27 percent.

Five days later, Mr. Leggett, who is in law school at the University of Toledo, was no longer employed by the city. He also said a planned internship in the mayor's office for next year was canceled.

"I called Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat and left him a message two days ago," Mr. Leggett said. "They closed my city e-mail account, no one calls me, and no one talks to me, so I assumed if my city e-mail account is closed that I was done."

He got a call back Wednesday morning from Mr. Herwat, who told him the internship was over.

"I told him that I never meant for this to embarrass anyone but that it is a public record that had to be provided," Mr. Leggett said.

He alleged that after completing the report, none of the high ranking Bell administration officials would accept it because of its possible implications.

"Everyone said 'don't give it to me' because then they would have to give it to council and then [council] would be upset that so many street lights are out," Mr. Leggett said. "They also didn't want to hear about the new [Public Utilities Commission of Ohio regulations] and that we do not have the ability to hold Toledo Edison accountable … that the citizens are paying for a service they are not getting."

Mr. Herwat refuted the claim that Mr. Leggett was fired or that he was set to participate in a mayor's office internship next year.

"We discussed the possibility of an internship. I never promised one for him," Mr. Herwat said.

He also said the current internship was always to be over at the end of 2010.

Mr. Collins said the city threw Mr. Leggett under the bus.

"Mr. Herwat called him and told him unceremoniously 'Welcome to the world of politics' and I think it certainly defines what is wrong about political regimes," Mr. Collins said. "The objective in this issue was a very serious problem and that is the number of street lights on any given day. Rather than look for constructive solutions, Steve Leggett becomes the scapegoat for bureaucratic incompetency."

Toledo City Council on Tuesday approved street lighting assessment. The downtown lighting cost was $248,105 for 2010 and $248,142 for 2011.

The assessment for the remainder of Toledo was $3.54 million for 2010 and $3.68 million for 2011.

The 2010 number is an increase of $139,675 for the citywide assessment and about $37,000 for downtown.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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