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Toledo councilman's column on credit lifted from blogger

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When contacted by phone Toledo City Councilman Larry Sykes admitted he made a mistake lifting the author's comments without giving him credit. 'I don't think it was stealing. I just repeated what he said,' he said.

THE BLADE
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He spent his career in banking, so Toledo City Councilman Larry Sykes ought to know something about credit scores.

Still, the bulk of the guest column Mr. Sykes wrote for last week's edition of The Sojourner’s Truth was lifted straight from a 2013 column by Greg Johnson of clubthrifty.com entitled, “My Credit Score: Why I Don't Care and You Shouldn't Either.”

Whole paragraphs were identical. Others had a different word here and there. A story Mr. Johnson told about him and his wife paying off a car became a story that Mr. Sykes’ “friend” told him.

“It looks like he copied and pasted most of it,” said Holly Johnson, who runs the clubthrifty site with her husband. “When people post duplicate content, that can hurt our website, and our website is how we make a living.”

RELATED CONTENT: Blog post on The Sojourner’s Truth ■ Club Thrifty blog post from 2013

After learning of the plagiarized column Thursday, Ms. Johnson contacted The Sojourner’s Truth, which bills itself as Toledo's African-American newspaper, and demanded that the column be removed. By afternoon, it was.

“It happens a lot, but it's wrong,” Ms. Johnson said. “Usually it's companies overseas, not legitimate people like this guy.”

Fletcher Word, editor and publisher of The Sojourner’s Truth, said he believed that Mr. Sykes – who was not paid for the column – had written the column himself. He thought it was a good piece.

“His background is banking ... and given his background, I didn't question it,” Mr. Word said, adding that he “hates” plagiarism.

When contacted by phone, Mr. Sykes admitted he cut and pasted Mr. Johnson's column. He called it a mistake, saying he should have given credit to the author.

“I don't think it was stealing. I just repeated what he said,” Mr. Sykes said.

He said he was angry about what happened to former City Councilman Lindsay Webb when she was named Lucas County treasurer only to find out she had a poor credit rating that initially prevented her from getting bonded. He said he wanted people to know they shouldn't feel bad if they have low credit scores, that, as Mr. Johnson put it, the credit score “is one of the most deceptive and meaningless marketing tools that the lending industry uses to control your financial behavior.”

“It's a great article and I think people will learn from it and hopefully they wont feel bad [about their credit score] and they won't go to payday lenders,” Mr. Sykes said.

Ms. Johnson was not pleased that Mr. Sykes adopted her husband's words as his own.

“Usually when people scrape our content, they keep the links in and we get a ping back,” she said. “It looks like he copied the content but took out the links, which is really [expletive] to be honest.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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