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Published: Thursday, 12/13/2012

Collins calls for public records on Navy Week, says city withholding information

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Vessels in town for Navy Week in August drew crowds to visit the ships tied up on both sides of the Maumee. Vessels in town for Navy Week in August drew crowds to visit the ships tied up on both sides of the Maumee.
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Somewhere in the widening chasm between the Bell administration and Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, emails and other public records about Navy Week events this past summer were either lost, forgotten, or withheld.

Mr. Collins, who is known to hammer Mayor Mike Bell’s office with public-records requests, accused the administration of withholding copies of invoices, checks, and emails concerning the weeklong event that attracted nearly 33,000 people to the downtown and East Toledo riverfronts.

“I think they know they got caught,” Mr. Collins said Wednesday after calling on officials to explain why they had withheld records.

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mayor Bell’s spokesman, said nothing was withheld.

“In compliance with Ohio public records law, we made a good faith effort to comply with the public-records request Mr. Collins made to our office,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said. “No documents were intentionally withheld that would have been responsive to his request.”

Mr. Collins did not accept that explanation.

“The fact is a good faith effort is not acceptable,” he said. “The law requires all of the records as defined in my request, and the records that were not provided based upon my request does not excuse away the unlawful actions of the Bell administration.”

Among the records Mr. Collins said were withheld was an email from Renee Marazon, chief executive of the Maritime Academy of Toledo Foundation.

In that Oct. 25 email to Ms. Sorgenfrei, Ms. Marazon said the foundation would not be able to pay bills for Navy Week.

The city paid $21,500 for things such as food, alcohol, transportation of Navy officials, and power-washing the docks. The city was to be reimbursed with money collected from private donations.

The Toledo Community Foundation had created a fund for the money to then send it to the city, but ultimately it could not pay those bills, said Keith Burwell, the agency’s executive director. “If we had paid directly, it would have been an expense not a grant,” Mr. Burwell said. “It would not have looked like a charitable expense.”

Next, the Maritime Academy of Toledo Foundation had the money but it, too, could not reimburse the city for the same accounting reasons and restrictions on nonprofit organizations.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said donations were made to the Toledo Community Foundation so the donations would be tax-deductible.

“We found out that it could only cut checks to another 501(c)3,” Mr. Herwat said. “So what we did then was approach the Maritime Academy and they indicated the same thing.”

The money eventually made its way to the Lucas County Improvement Corporation to be shifted back to the city. Ford Weber, LCIC president, said it had received $19,357 to send to the city.

“Our bottom line is our bills will be paid and it will not cost the taxpayers,” Mr. Herwat said. “We raised over $30,000 to pay for a variety of expenses.”

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



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