Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another story behind the story at the LCIC

Yesterday, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop introduced a resolution to remove the Lucas County Improvement Corporation as the county's designated economic development agency.

The resolution was introduced during the morning meeting and failed to pass by a vote of 1-1 with Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak absent. Commissioner Pete Gerken was the no vote.

Konop introduced the resolution again during the BCC afternoon meeting and it again failed 2-1 with Wozniak voting to keep the designation.

There are numerous press reports about what happened, (WSPD news story with audio, Blade article, 13ABC story) but they can't give you the story behind the story and place the actions in context with their space or time constraints.

Konop's explanation for his action was because the agency was 'unresponsive' to his requests for information about their economic development efforts. But that's not exactly truthful.

Last week, Konop asked for a detailed report from staff on current projects, time allotted to each project, and potential for capital investment, job growth or retention.

Jeannie Hylant, chairman of the LCIC board, asked that the request be delayed given that the agency was shorthanded and some staff members were out sick. She indicated that this request should and would be done after the new board members were in place, probably as part of the orientation for the new members.

Interestingly, the request from Konop did not follow established procedures. Konop asked for the information directly from staff rather than go through the executive committee. It's unknown why he didn't follow procedures when asking for information, but he has continually ignored the fact that the LCIC employees work for a 26-member board - and not exclusively for him. And this is not the first time that he's had an issue with the decisions of the board's executive committee and taken it out on staff. (Background in chronological order here, here, here, and here.)

However, not content with being told no, he spent time over the holiday weekend calling, emailing - and having his assistant call - the several economic development specialists - demanding that they appear in his office Tuesday morning at 8:45 in order to provide him with the detailed information.

Two staff members did appear as summoned with a third one declining to attend due to a scheduled meeting with a client.

So, for Konop to say that staff 'unresponsive' isn't true. They did, in fact, attend his scheduled meeting, putting themselves into a position of conflict between board member Konop and their boss, board president Hylant. Konop obviously has little regard for the staff of the LCIC that he would put them in such a position - and that says an awful lot about Konop.

No matter how you look at it, Konop was not stonewalled, as he's claimed, so that should be discarded as a reason for wanting to abandon the LCIC.

Further, he says that the agency is rudderless. Um...perhaps Konop has forgotten that he is the reason the agency is without an executive director? And, he's the one who's in charge of the search committee for the new director which he said was going to take only 90 days - but then extended to four months.

And how is that search going, Ben? You handpicked your search committee and then Oregon Mayor Marge Brown (also a member of the LCIC board), with the support of the executive committee, added some experienced economic development professionals to the group of academics and politically correct members.

So how many times have you met? What actions have you taken toward the search? Did you work up a job description? Have you posted the vacancy in any local or national publications? Have you had any conversations with potential directors? Do you think your public comments about disbanding this agency might have any negative impact on your ability to find someone to take the job?

Oh - that's right...you want to hire a firm to do this for you. In fact, you and your fellow commissioners gave the LCIC (that's YOU, by the way) two weeks in which to hire a director. Their failure to do so would mean that the Commissioners would hire and direct a search firm and then install a director.

Now, where the BCC gets the authority to expend county monies in order to conduct a search for a non-profit agency and then dictate the hiring of the found individual is beyond me. Having been a Commissioner I can confidently say that the Commissioners have no such authority - though they could give money to the LCIC for the LCIC to expend for this purpose - but that would mean that the LCIC executive committee would do as Konop wanted. And in the past they've proven to be reluctant to ask 'how high' when Konop has demanded that they jump.

No - the real reason Konop wants to remove the economic development designation from the LCIC is because it's finally dawning upon him that he can't control it. As one of 26 board members, he has little individual authority over the agency. Since Wozniak and Gerken voted to keep Gerken as the commissioner representative on the LCIC executive committee (which has all decision-making authority for the agency), Konop can ask the committee for things, but cannot dictate actions.

Further, he's realizing that many of his requests are unreasonable or not well-thought out. He wanted to schedule a tour of various businesses by some Chinese businessmen - but concerns about what they might do with access to certain proprietary processes and information was brushed aside by Konop, but not by the executive committee - and rightly so.

In a childish manner, as Konop fails to get his way, he takes his disputes public throwing what could be described as a temper tantrum about his perceived slights. He's doing this in the guise of trying to spur economic development within the county. But his efforts are having the opposite effect.

Business leaders and other economic development agencies have encouraged him to be a bit more diplomatic about publicly bashing his own economic development agency - especially when his dispute is with the board members and his fellow commissioners and NOT with the agency staff who are only following directions.

Further, his criticisms of an entity that's only been up and running for about a year and a half are considered by many to be pre-mature. To go from nothing to a functioning agency with staff, offices, and all the other things necessary to a new organization - in addition to the work they've done helping several local companies and establishing a model for K-16 workforce development would, in most circles, be reason for praise.

But if you're a board member whose individual initiatives have not been embraced (and maybe for good reason), you use your public office to try and destroy what you cannot control.

What many people might not know is how precarious the negotiations with Schindler Elevator, in Springfield Township, were during all of Konop's shenanigans. Ousted LCIC director Shawn Ferguson was the driving force behind their decision to stay and expand in Lucas County rather than move to another location. Konop's statements, and his demand that Ferguson had to go, almost cost the county this expansion. It was in spite of Konop - and due to the efforts of the other LCIC board members - that this planned expansion is going to take place.

I can only imagine what other companies think of these actions - or how such goings-on might drive them elsewhere in their search for expanded or new facilities.

When the LCIC was first re-organized, I had numerous and serious objections to the structure, the funding and other technical aspects. I still have those concerns and believe the bylaws of the organization and the structure could be improved. But like Wozniak and Gerken, I believe that a regional approach to economic development is the best way to go. Further, there are numerous ways to go about initiating such changes. And while there are probably many right ways to change the agency, the wrong way is the way that Konop has embraced - tearing down an organization because he cannot control it and setting coordinated economic development back decades in the process.

And that's the story behind the story.

7 comments:

Kurt said...

Maggie,

While I found your behind the scenes story to be rather compelling, I have to ask, how do you know that this is the real behind the scenes story?

This hasn't been reported elsewhere, nor did you provide any citations. I don't wish to sound rude, but it sounds like either you made the story up, or it's based on hearsay. In otherwords, it would be quite helpful if you cited your sources. And even if people told you this, it would still be hearsay. If people are telling you this, then why aren't they telling the other media?

I don't think this is an issue of media reporting, because if the rest of the media got wind of this, they would surely report it (they're not THAT liberal).

In addition, your opposition to Mr. Konop's problems with the LCIC seem inconsistent with your conservative beliefs. I heard you, Brian Wilson, and Fred "The Toledo Fever" discussing this issue. Somehow, all of you oppose unnecessary government spending, yet Mr. Konop wants to take away a significant portion of government spending, and you oppose him just because he's a democrat and probably ran you out of office (and that's my own opinion based on your three bashing articles against him in the last 2 days). Regardless, I would think that you, as a strong conservative, would oppose any unnecessary government spending. As someone who wants to pay less in taxes, good, I agree with Ben that this is a waste. We have a Regional Growth Partnership that does the same thing, and is better at it.

I respect you Maggie, but I have to call you out on your hypocrisy here (or is it bitterness?). The county should not be investing in the LCIC when the RGP is doing the same thing, and doing it more effectively.

You can call Ben immature all you like, but you can't make stuff up. Please provide citations and sources. Because otherwise, you're just like Brian Wilson, who believes that the United States Constitution applies to the state of Ohio and the city of Toledo, which it doesn't. The constitution only applies to the federal government (accept for certain amendments brought through the 14th amendment). I swear, I heard that conversation on Tuesday and thought, "are you kidding me?"

Very truly yours,

Kurt

Maggie Thurber said...

Kurt - thanks for your questions.

First - no one ran me out of office. I chose not to seek re-election because I was just sick and tired of politics, to put it bluntly. It was a choice made long before any declared candidate was named - least of which Ben Konop.

I have no personal animosity toward Ben, though I do find many of his behaviors in terms of his lack of return phone calls and replies to my emails to be rude and unprofessional.

In fact, I had a very pleasant conversation with him the other day when we happened to both be at Barry's Bagels at Westgate. This isn't personal - but it is professional in terms of his performance in office.

So let's take things one at a time.

My sources are inside individuals. It should come as no surprise that I still have considerable contacts and good relationships with people I worked with officially as a commissioner.

As I often complained when in office, people would come to me and say: 'you need to know this but you didn't get it from me.' This is still happening.

If you doubt the accuracy, the logs of visitors to government center are a public record and you can check for yourself to see the LCIC staffers who were present at the Tuesday morning meeting with Ben. And the logs require you to say where you're going in the building...

As for other media - I don't account for them. Perhaps my sources didn't share the information with them? Perhaps they did and, because of a lack of attribution, didn't publish. Who knows? I certainly do not expect the local paper to cover this aspect, considering their previous coverage (or lack thereof) of such issues and their seeming support of accepting Ben's word as truth without any verification.

Kurt, I can prove this if required to do so ... and I wouldn't post it if I couldn't.

As for what you consider to be my 'hypocrisy'...you're absolutely wrong. I oppose his method of addressing his concerns and his penchant for taking out his frustrations on the staff - rather than on the executive committe and his fellow commissioners, which is where his frustration should be focused.

As for the spending, Lucas County is going to spend the money one way or the other, imho. The money being paid to LCIC is the same money that was funding the previous County Department of Economic Development. Previous years' budgets ranged from $600,000 to $1,600,000 - depending upon how many E.D. grants were extended. Personnel and office costs ranged from $250,000 to $350,000. If the LCIC is undesignated as the county's E.D. agency, the county will just bring staff back over to government center and will continue to pay them.

As I understand from what I've heard from Ben, it's not that the County is spending the money, it's that he doesn't believe he's getting his money's worth. My opinion is that he thinks this because his issues aren't being addressed. And he seems to have a serious lack of understanding of his individual role as a member of non-profit board where he shares authority with 26 other people who also have their own issues.

And I disagree with his characterization of 'failure' by this agency. In being fair, I think their record of successes is comparable - if not better - than his own for the same amount of time in office. But you - and most others - haven't heard about many of those things.

In taking out his frustrations on the previous executive director, Ben also chose to overlook the fact that Shawn Ferguson also served as executive director for the Workforce Investment Board, requiring 40% of his time in exchange for 40% of his salary. Ben never mentioned that the 'huge salary' Shawn was getting was for doing two jobs and wasn't all from the County. The way he characterized that whole issue and his public actions against an employee following the direction of his board has had a seriously detrimental impact in the area of economic development. It was also, imho, highly unprofessional.

His current actions continue that negative impact.

Perhaps you missed the last paragraph of my post where I state that I still have concerns about many aspects of the LCIC, including funding and structure.

Are there better ways to do economic development? Definitely! But many of the tasks performed by the LCIC will still need to be performed by someone, so even if the LCIC goes away, the functions will have to continue. They used to be done by the county's in-house economic development department and, according to what Ben is proposing, they'd return to an in-house development department. There wouldn't be much savings, if any.

As for the RGP, that was my original thought back in 2005. The County, legally, has only three ways of doing economic development. One is to do it themselves, in house. Another way is to contract with an agency to do it for them. In effect, that's what they've done with the LCIC - and what they could have done with the RGP.

But I lost that battle in 2005.

Today, with the buy-in and support for the LCIC from all but one community in Lucas County, there is the challenge of getting the cities, villages and townships to do the same thing as the county, whether its to continue with the LCIC or contract with someone else. If tasks are brought in-house, that coalition and cooperation goes back to what it was before, which many think is not as inter-connected as it is today.

This is another aspect which Ben hasn't seemed to anticipate: what happens to all the other municipalities that are partners in the LCIC, have contributed their own resources toward the agency, and have embraced a regional, cooperative approach to E.D.?

From what I've learned from many of them, Ben isn't even talking to them about his issues. And the whole idea of the county pulling out of the organization was seen as a slap in the face to many of them who've agreed to try and work with the county in a positve way.

This is another example of Ben not thinking things through nor of having a plan or accommodation for others impacted by his actions.

At this point, I really don't believe that the RGP is a viable alternative because it would require 2 votes from the commissioners. Given only two alternatives of either using the RGP or of bringing services back in-house, I'm pretty confident that Pete and Tina would not go with the RGP.

Additionally, the 'control' that public officials always want to maintain over the uses of public monies would not be as great in doing a contract with the RGP - who may not even be amenable to taking on such a contract with the corresponding public dollars that would require certain strings.

So, I question - as should you - just how much could actually be saved, as Ben keeps mentioning. Has Ben produced any sort of budget for what will happen with the county staff or how much it will cost to bring tasks back into county government? Not that I'm aware of. Saying we're wasting money is one thing. That's much different than showing how much money is being spent by the LCIC versus how much the County would spend to bring these things back in-house.

As for the frequency of posts - it's merely the coincidence of the commissioners, and Ben, addressing several things all at the same time and all relating to the LCIC. Nothing more or less.

One other point, Kurt - I have never opposed anyone because of their political affiliation. I have consistently focused not on the personal, but on the actions themselves. I've been critical of Republicans when I think they've made bad decisions. It's about the decision and not the person.

In this instance, this is all control - and Ben's in a battle with Pete who's got more than his fair share. The instrument, in this case, just happens to be the LCIC.

Finally, let me emphasize: Ben's methods and tactics are the more serious problem here. As I said in the post, there are probably numerous 'right' ways to accomplish what he's trying to do...but the way he has chosen is definitely the wrong way. Additionally, the lack of background information available in the local media contributes to the perception problem of many, like you, who have only what they read/see to provide context to the complexity of what is going on.

If Ben would only bother to actually talk to me about this, he might find we have more in common than he thinks. However, he is the one who seems to have a personal problem with me and my political affiliation - not the other way around.

Lastly, Kurt - I know you helped Ben during his campaign, so my guess is that you'd be able to contact him and ask him a question. So, give him a call and ask him if emails and phone calls were made to LCIC staff over the MLK weekend telling them to come to a Tuesday morning meeting. I'm surprised you didn't do that prior to accusing me of making things up.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Ben and his antics are reminiscent of one of the area's other "difficult" problem politicians, a certain Carleton S. Finkbeiner.

Czarty Lite or Czarty the second; looks like it to me.

Perhaps we need to start boiling the water before making and drinking the resultant Kool Aide...

Roo said...

Interesting.

Just heard a presentation today from Greater Downtown Business Partnership - some interesting statements came out of that. There is actually quite a bit happening around Toledo. I was surprised.

As for Ben ------ well, he's young. And he's spoiled - IMO. So sooner or later he will grow up and realize that this is Toledo, not Konopville.

And, BTW, I think I'm right when I say ---------- you have at least one true friend that's a Democrat, don't you? :)

Maggie Thurber said...

Roo - actually I have a lot of friends who are probably democrats along with some whom I know are democrats. Quite honestly, their political affiliation is irrelevant to our friendship! Imagine that! :)

Kurt said...

Maggie, if you are willing to provide your sources freely, please do so. Otherwise, you may recieve a subpeona to do so. Clearly, those who are contacting you within the office favor you either politically, ideologically, or becuase they like you. Clearly, there is some bias to their information. If I were in your position, it would be because they liked me. I'll be honest, the more I've gotten to know you, the more I like you. Anyway, my point is, all of this nonsense is biased, either for or against you. I think it's in everone's best interest to let it go.

Maggie Thurber said...

Kurt - just what, specifically, do you think it is that I've said that is not my own personal opinion or not able to be backed up with proof?

I'm well aware of individuals who provide information for their own reasons - been around in politics quite long enough for that. However, just because they have their own motivations, it doesn't mean the facts they've provided are any less accurate.

If you'd rather email me on this, as you seem to be treading cautiously here, please feel free to do so.

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