Background checks, ID cards slow weapon sales, close shops; Toledo gun-control laws prompt praise, criticism

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A9

Ned Plummer knows the meaning of a close call.

The owner of the Trilby Sport Shop on Secor Road was in the process of selling a handgun to a woman earlier this month. All the paperwork was in place; she had gone through a battery of background checks, with nothing untoward to be found. City and state government officials had signed off on the transfer, and all that was left was a day’s wait before the gun could be handed over.

“Then I got a call from [the Lucas County adult protective services unit]. They told me she was ‘mentally defective,'” he remembered. “They told me not to give her the gun because she might do something.”

Fewer than 24 hours before the weapon would be in her hands, the system had worked, even though a mentally unstable woman had somehow made her way through an intense investigation unnoticed.

Proponents of Toledo’s tight gun-control laws say that’s why background checks are so important – they keep firearms out of dangerous hands, saving lives and stopping injury. But gun advocates say they needlessly duplicate federal laws and hassle even the most upright of citizens – and are at least partly to blame for shutting down Toledo’s gun shops.

Mr. Plummer knows about that too. With the closing of Tom’s Guns and Shooting Supplies on Nov. 29, he now owns the only store left in the city limits that exists mostly to sell guns. (Some Toledo pawn shops and department stores sell guns on the side, and about a dozen people sell handguns out of their homes with a city license.)

The centerpiece of Toledo’s gun law is the Toledo Handgun Owner’s Identification Card, required for all owners, purchasers, and users of handguns in the city.

The idea of an ID card was introduced, without much fanfare, through a council bill proposed in early 1968 by first-term Councilman Gene Cook, whose 30-year stint on council ends this week. Supportive council members, fearing the bill didn’t have enough support to pass, kept it hidden in committees for months.

But two prominent killings that year – Martin Luther King, Jr. in April with a high-powered rifle and Robert Kennedy in June, victim of a cheap handgun of the sort the bill targeted – changed the public’s mood for gun control.

And at the same time, officials outside Toledo began singling out the city as a gun problem for the entire region. In congressional debates over gun control, Toledo was singled out as the “largest gun outlet in the Midwest.” Officials in Detroit complained constantly about the flow of cheap handguns across the Michigan border from Toledo.

That was enough to change councilmen’s minds. On Aug. 12, the bill passed 8-0.

“This will stop dealers from selling handguns to kids and to any numbskull that walks in off the streets,” Police Chief Anthony Bosch said at the time.

The system installed was this: To get a handgun, a Toledoan has to apply for a handgun ID card at the Treasury Department downtown, now at One Government Center. He must fill out a one-page form, be photographed, and submit to a background check by the Toledo police records division.

A sergeant checks national and local records for felony convictions or any of the other things that can make a gun purchase illegal in the city. If the police find nothing, the sergeant gives Treasury officials the green light to issue the ID card, which allows the person to buy, own, or use handguns for the next three years. About 2 per cent get rejected.

The whole process takes an average of two to three weeks, city officials say. That’s an underestimate, according to Mr. Plummer. “I can’t remember the last time a card came in under 14 days,” he said.

That time period can be delayed when large numbers of Toledoans buy guns, usually following a high-profile crime, officials said.

One former Toledo gun dealer who asked not to be identified said he thought the law was a good one.

“It seemed very fair, and a good idea,” said the man, who retired and closed his shop two years ago.

But it made the business of selling guns a tough one in the city limits. Customers coming from out of town have to spend weeks getting the license, when they could buy a firearm in another city without delay. Toledo residents looking for a gun were legally required to get an ID card no matter where they bought their weapon – but vendors outside the city couldn’t be required to ask for the card.

“Any dealer in the area should know to require the IDs,” said Scott Searle, a Toledo finance department official who handles ID applications. “But there’s no way to enforce it.”

City gun shop owners began to worry about their futures.

“Some say sales have dropped off so drastically since the law was enacted,” a Sept. 29, 1968, Blade article said, “that they may be forced to close shop.”

Mr. Plummer can count off the shops that went out of business or left town after the bill passed – Edwards’s downtown, Kowalka’s Gun Store on Tracy Road, Lickendorf’s on Stickney Avenue.

But there were still plenty of places to buy guns in Toledo, perhaps a dozen, gun owners remember.

But that was before 1994. That year, after years of lobbying by former Reagan press secretary James Brady, who suffered brain damage in the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt, Congress finally put into force the Brady Act, which mandated federal criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a handgun. (That stipulation was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, but a deal announced earlier this month by Ohio attorney general Betty Montgomery keeps the system effectively in place, with state officials making most of the checks in place of federal agents.)

The check is made through the National Crime Information Center, a national database with data from all of Ohio’s 88 counties. With that check comes another delay, ranging from two to five days, more if there are serious questions about a buyer’s background.

So, starting three years ago, a Toledo handgun buyer had to go through two background checks, covering fundamentally the same ground and delaying a gun’s transfer by four or more weeks.

“Our check is essentially the same one the Brady does,” said Sgt. Louis Beringer, who does the background research for Toledo police.

“It just doesn’t make sense to do it twice,” Mr. Plummer said.

The procedure increased the incentive of gun buyers to evade the system, by buying outside the city limits or buying at gun shows, where rule enforcement can be more lax. It also made it even more difficult to run a successful gun shop in Toledo.

“We sell maybe a few dozen handguns a year,” Mr. Plummer said of his shop. “We go some months without selling any.”

Meanwhile, Cleland’s Outdoor World, west of the city line in Monclova Township, sells almost one thousand handguns a year.

“We don’t really have any competition from Toledo,” said manager Matt Cleland, who said about half of his business comes from residents of the city.

Mr. Plummer said he believes eliminating the Toledo background check in favor of the Brady check would help his business.

“I might have the guy down the block coming here to buy a handgun instead of driving out of town,” he said.

Backers of the Toledo law, however, say it provides another layer of defense against criminals trying to buy guns. Toledo does a background check every three years, when applicants seek a renewal; Brady applies only at the moment of purchase. And because Toledo law bans the possession of a handgun by those with certain criminal backgrounds – not just the purchase, as Brady does – Toledo police can order handguns seized after a person commits a crime. Federal law can’t.

“We can get those guns away from the felons after they commit the crime,” Sergeant Beringer said.

The city check also looks for two violations the Brady check does not. City law prohibits handgun sales to anyone with multiple disorderly conduct convictions related to alcohol or drug use in the last year. It also disallows sales to people with more than one misdemeanor conviction involving violence or the threat of violence in the last year.

Ohio’s checks are based on Brady Act requirements, and the act does not require authorities to search for those offenses, Ohio deputy attorney general Mark Weaver said.

In the last 12 months, Toledo has issued about 580 new ID cards and renewed about 1,200 – about average numbers for recent years, officials said. Since the cards expire in three years, that means about 5,500 Toledo residents can legally own or use a handgun. Some feel that low number just proves that there are thousands of people flouting the law by buying outside the city or buying on the black market.

“There are a lot more people than that [5,500] who have handguns in this city,” Mr. Plummer said. In 1968, Toledo police estimated there were 100,000 handguns in the city.

In any event, officials admit it is difficult to make a foolproof background checking system, at any level.

“Very few criminals, after all, are willing to go through the official handgun process,” Mr. Weaver said. “They have other ways.”

Some of them – along with thousands of perfectly law-abiding citizens – find their firearms at gun shows, where vendors and individuals put their used guns on display and on sale.

As Mr. Plummer said of the woman county officials said was “mentally defective”: “There’s nothing stopping her from going to a gun show and buying there.”

Locally, most gun shows are sponsored by the Maumee Valley Gun Collectors. Their shows were once held in Toledo, but the ID card law chased the events – and their tax dollars – to the suburbs. Now, they’re held six times a year at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee.

For someone looking for a hassle-free gun buy, a gun show makes sense. At the Rec Center, dealers aren’t legally required to check for a Toledo ID card. And individual gun owners vending their wares don’t even have to do a Brady Act background check.

“There are certainly a lot more gun shows now than there used to be,” said Ted Almay, superintendent of Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

Across Ohio, the number of people considering it worth their while to sell guns has dropped dramatically. In 1994, there were more than 10,000 federal firearms licensees in the state, Mr. Almay said. That number is fewer than 6,000 today.

Hungarian nativity play is Birmingham indicator

By Joshua Benton and Jack Baessler
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

Lack of Hungarian-speaking men and the further decline of Hungarian culture in the Birmingham neighborhood appear to be the reason for the cancellation of a century-old Christmas tradition, authorities on the neighborhood said.

For the second straight year, the oreg (pronounced er-deg), a colorful Hungarian nativity drama that celebrates the birth of Christ, won’t be performed at St. Stephen’s Church, 1880 Genesee St.

This year’s cancellation of the light-hearted play can be blamed on busy schedules, a lack of Hungarian speakers, and a change of pastors, church officials said.

But some say it indicates one of Tole do’s proudest ethnic neighborhoods may be los ing its unique character. It also might be due to a lack of leadership at St. Stephen’s, they say.

“A neighborhood is dynamic,” said Andrew Ludanyi, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University who has studied the neighborhood. “It’s going to revive if there are leaders interested in giving the neighborhood life. In the leadership in the Catholic Church, I think a dynamic personality is missing.

“The play deserves to be preserved. I’m sure if there was institutional support for it, people could be recruited. … Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“We are going to have to work on getting others to learn it so we can do it next year,” said Father Ken Morman, associate pastor at St. Stephen’s.

“I think this is just a temporary setback,” said John Ahern, a University of Toledo education professor who directs the Birmingham Cultural Center. “I am convinced that next year, with the stability in the pastorate, that it will return, in one form or another.”

He said that might mean the Hungarian script might be translated into English, with the singing still in the original tongue.

“It would not be the same [in English],” Mr. Ahern said. “But the Hungarian-Americans have adjusted to a number of changes.”

Elmer Molnar, a member of St. Stephen’s parish council, said yesterday the play still has a strong appeal in the East Toledo neighborhood and among Hungarians around the city who mark the season by attending the pageant.

“I think we will hear some comments if we don’t have it,” Mr. Molnar said. “It is easy to say why don’t we have it. But somebody has to take the bull by the horns and say, ‘Let’s have it.'”

About a week ago, St. Stephen’s parishioners read in their bulletins that the absence of complete scripts for the pageant had forced its cancellation, he said.

Parish council members had been told Peter Ujvagi had taken chairmanship of the drama and would see that it was performed, Mr. Molnar said.

“Since he was chair, you ought to talk to him about it,” he said.

Mr. Ujvagi, a Toledo councilman, could not be reached.

The pageant failed to be performed a year ago because the church was in the midst of changing priests, Mr. Molnar said.

“It was all up in the air,” he said. “We didn’t know who was coming.”

The oreg has its origins in early Christian tradition that dates to the 7th century when Pope Theo do si us had the relics of Bethlehem brought to Rome.

Drawing from that event, people built little manger scenes. Later, festival plays were created.

Various versions evolved. Some were faithful to Christian teachings, and some strayed from the original form and were banished from churches in the 13th century.

Later, more faithful scripts were spread by Jesuit and Franciscan schools throughout central Europe. These plays eventually were brought to Toledo and enacted at Christmas.

The pageant was outlawed in Hungary by the Communists after World War II and, when communism fell almost a decade ago, native Hungarians came to Toledo to relearn the play’s traditions, Mr. Ahern said.

“That’s a pretty powerful tradition,” he said.

Yolanda Danyi Szuch, who has written a history of St. Stephen’s Church, said the plays included an Old Man, who was regarded as cranky, lazy, and hard of hearing. His flaws represented the dark side of human nature.

Several decades ago, it was common to have tryouts for the six to 10 roles in the oreg cast and commitments to do a lengthy list of performances.

In recent years, performances were limited to Midnight Mass at St. Stephen’s.

“For me, it was really great when the oreg came,” said Louis Dudas, a St. Stephen’s church member, recalling when the troupes visited his home.”

Several parishioners couldn’t agree whether the loss of the oregs marked a decline in the Hungarian influence in the East Toledo neighborhood.

Mr. Dudas said the cancellations reflect the ethnic group’s loss of influence. “There is nobody to do it anymore,” he said. “The Birmingham neighborhood is basically not a Hungarian neighborhood. There are all kinds of people living here.”

Nancy Packo Horvath, co-owner of Tony Packo’s Cafe, and Mariska Kinsey, owner of Kinsey funeral home, disagreed.

“It is a great loss and I am hopeful it will come back,” Ms. Horvath said.

The Rev. Imre Bertalan, pastor of Calvin United Church of Christ near St. Stephen’s, said the oreg has important lessons and was enjoyed by many people.

“Maybe we will try to band together to perform it ecumenically,” Mr. Bertalan said.

Mr. Ludanyi said the church needs to find a strong leader to bring the neighborhood together.

“I think the Catholic Church should look for a good ethnic parish priest who cares about the ethnic character of the neighborhood,” he said. “If that happens, the play will continue for another 100 years.

Mr. Ahern said the play’s performance is an important part of keeping the neighborhood’s morale high.

“There’s a lot of sadness at a very joyous time of year. It’s like the loss of a friend of the family,” he said. “I suspect whoever is pastor next year will give this a high priority.”

But he is confident the play will return. “I’ll bet you $25 it will be back in next year,” he said.

Lucas County law enforcement boosts budget

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

An increase in the cost of arresting, prosecuting, and housing criminals is part of the reason why Lucas County officials expect to spend $33 million more next year than in 1997.

The 1998 budget, which was passed yesterday by the Lucas County board of commissioners, includes a big increase for the prosecutor’s office, where funding will rise 11 per cent, up to $3.8 million in 1998.

County payments to the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio will jump 12.7 per cent to $3.1 million.

Sandy Isenberg, president of the board of commissioners, said the increases are brought on by more community policing by sheriff’s deputies and new Ohio sen tencing guidelines that keep criminals in prison longer.

Another increase will be triggered by the Jan. 1 switch in the county’s 911 system.

Overall, spending is expected to rise from $411.5 million this year to $444.6 million next year, an 8 per cent increase.

Commissioners said the approval is historic because it occurred before the new fiscal year started.

“This is a very momentous occasion,” Ms. Isenberg said. “This has never been done before, and it will mean a prosperous 1998.”

Approving the budget early gives county officials a headstart on planning new hires and new purchases for 1998.

In previous years, commissioners approved a temporary budget before year’s end, then waited until up to three months into the new year before passing the final plan.

“This way, the departments know what they can buy or spend when the year starts,” commissioner Mark Pietrykowski said.

The 1998 budget calls for county revenue to cross the half-billion-dollar mark for the first time, projecting $503.8 million of revenues.

“I think these numbers bode well for our future,” Ms. Isenberg said. “These are good economic times, and we’re in a good position for the bad days when they come.”

Most of that excess money is not available for expenses and has been committed to use over the next few years.

The general fund, which the commis sioners fully control, anticipates revenues of $111,907,388 in 1998 and expenses of $111,857,175.

Commissioners gave credit for the early passage to the Office of Management and Budget, headed by director John Zeitler.

In the last several years, the number of agency budget analysts has gone from two to four, giving staff time to finalize budget figures earlier.

The agency’s budget increased as well, from $284,000 in 1996 to $480,000 allocated in next year’s budget.

In other action, the commissioners heard the first estimated price tags for a new communications facility that will house, among others, the county’s 911 operators.

The two sites under consideration are at 711 Adams St. and 2144 Monroe St.

The first has been coveted by Children Services Board and judicial officials as possible expansion space.

The second is the current site of county 911 operators and would need to be expanded to house a consolidated calling center.

An architectural study has put the price of renovating 711 Adams St. at $1.3 million.

Renovating the Monroe Street location, which also would include the construction of a 75,000-square-foot annex, would cost $2.2 million.

Ms. Isenberg said she was leaning toward the Monroe location, but believed the pricetag must be lowered.

A decision on the site will be made by the end of January.

Mr. Pietrykowski said he hopes to be in the new facility by the end of 1998.

“This is at least a 20, 25-year decision on a permanent building,” county administrator John Alexander said. “We’re not going to rush into it.”

Ms. Isenberg said she expects problems with the Jan. 2 move of city operators to the Alarm Building downtown.

“I think there will be some bugs, but I’m looking forward to an easy transition,” she said.

The budget allocates $845,000 for Recreation Center improvements and $400,000 for building improvements aimed at increasing compliance with the Americans with Disabilites Act.

Mayor seeks civic hall; City leaders may be honored

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Canton, Cooperstown … Toledo?

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner thinks civic leaders should be honored in a hall of fame, and he’s started a new city committee to choose its members.

“There are not many other cities or states that do this,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “I think it’s something that is long overdue.”

At today’s 4 p.m. council meeting, Mr. Finkbeiner will announce his intention to open a Toledo Civic Leader Hall of Fame. A nine-member Toledo Civic Leader Committee will be in charge of its progress.

Council will likely not approve the mayor’s proposed appointees at the meeting, postponing action until members can learn more about the nominees – three of whom don’t live in the city.

Members were not provided with the mayor’s rationale for the appointments, and council member Jeanine Perry said she will wait for that information before voting on any nominees.

“I’m sure there are good reasons for these people to be named, but I would just like to know what they’ve done for the community,” she said.

The three noncity residents – civil rights lawyer Robert Kaplan, Toledo Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux, and United Auto Workers regional director Jack Sizemore – would have to be given a special exemption under city law if they are to serve.

The other six nominees: Pat Nicholson, CEO of N-Viro International Corp.; Sandra Stewart, publisher of the Toledo Journal; Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Flores; Kathy Steadman, former president of Neighborhoods in Partnership; former Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Franklin; and Robert Anderson, retired head of engineering for The Andersons, Inc.

In addition to selecting the honorees, the commission will identify a location and a funding source for the hall of fame. Mr. Finkbeiner has tabbed Mr. Nichol son to serve as committee chairman.

The said he expects to see the first inductions – complete with busts – in late 1998.

Today’s 4 p.m. meeting will also be the last for retiring council president Gene Cook and for District 1 council member June Boyd.

In other action, council will consider:

* Changing the way the Toledo fire department charges for fire inspections.

Currently, property owners are charged $25 for each address of a building they own. But apartment complex owners had complained that opened them up to exorbitant charges, sometimes over $1,500, for a full inspection because they assigned addresses to small sections of their buildings.

The ordinance would allow complex owners to be charged at an hourly rate of $25.

* Lowering the speed limit on Heatherdowns Boulevard between Schneider and Byrne roads from 35 to 30 mph. That section is considered a through street under current law, a designation that would be removed by the ordinance to be considered today.

* Authorizing a $250,000 economic development loan to High Tech Packaging, Inc. The funds would be used to build a 200,000-square-foot facility. The company says the growth will create at least 150 new jobs.

Council will also consider spending $150,000 in capital improvement program funds to improve utility lines at the site.

In this year’s mayoral race, High Tech owner Robert Hadley donated $5,000 to Mr. Finkbeiner’s re-election bid, finance reports show.

* Installing traffic signals outside Maumee Valley Country Day School at Glendale Avenue and a Wendy’s restaurant on Monroe Street near Talmadge Road.

* Receiving a $52,745 grant from the Ohio Supreme Court for the Mediation Institutionalization Project, whose purpose is to thin out court dockets by reaching settlements in lawsuits before they reach trial.

* A proposed settlement between Chrysler and the city on their liability in cleaning up three local landfills.

The agreement would dismiss Toledo’s lawsuit against the automaker over the cleanup of the Dura landfill, in exchange for a $750,000 payment. Chrysler would also take over all of the city’s cleanup responsibilities at the North Cove landfill at a cost to the city of $250,000. The city would also buy Chrysler’s property at the Stick ney landfill for $1 million.

The agreement is part of the city’s development agreement with Chrysler for the new Jeep plant.

Plane crash near Findlay kills 3

By Joshua Benton and Eddie B. Allen, Jr.
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

FINDLAY — Three men were killed yesterday when the plane they were flying in crashed moments after it took off from Findlay Municipal Airport.

Names of the victims were withheld, pending positive identification and notification of relatives.

But sources said one of the dead is feared to be Fred Kremer, Jr., the chairman of the Findlay-based manufacturing company Hancor, Inc., and president of the board of the United Way of Hancock County.

According to Hancock County sheriff’s deputies, the 1976 Beechcraft Bonanza A36 took off from the airport’s north-south runway just before 7 a.m.

Moments later, it came down about a mile away on State Rt. 15, which runs parallel to the runway, officials said.

The aircraft brushed the top of several trees, fell to the edge of Route 15, then slid across West ern Avenue, breaking through a gate that divides West ern and Route 15.

The plane came to rest about 20 feet into a wooded area east of Western.

No cars were struck, and no one on the ground was hurt.

Federal Aviation Administration officials from Columbus were investigating last night to try to determine what caused the six-seater, single-engine plane to crash.

All three bodies were burned be yond recognition, and officials will have to use dental records to make a positive identification, Hancock County coroner Leroy Schroeder said.

That will likely be completed by tomorrow or Tuesday.

Bob Hauzie, Hancor’s vice president for administration, confirmed that the crashed plane was owned by GF Aviation, a Findlay-based company owned by Mr. Kremer that shares a mailing address with Hancor.

He confirmed that Mr. Kremer was scheduled to fly out of the Findlay airport in that plane, GF Aviation’s only one, early yesterday morning.

The flight plans called for the plane to head to White Plains, N.Y., Mr. Hauzie said.

The three people scheduled to be on the plane were Mr. Kremer and two pilots, both employees of Rowmark, a plastic sheeting company owned by Mr. Kremer.

Mr. Hauzie would not release their names last night.

The fog that blanketed the Findlay area yesterday morning was at its thickest around flight time.

Visibility was down to a quarter of a mile at 7 a.m. and was under a mile from 4 to 11 a.m., according to Kerry Schwindenhammer, a fore caster for AccuWeather, Inc., a private forecasting service based in State College, Pa.

Vertical visibility was down to 100 feet.

The National Weather Service issued a dense fog advisory just after the crash, at 7:25 a.m.

The fog, which had been heavy throughout the night in Toledo, was drifting south toward Findlay around daybreak, meteorologist Jim Kosarik said.

Light winds – about 4 mph – allowed the fog to condense easily.

At the time of the accident, it was 32 degrees at the Findlay airport, with a 30-degree dew point, producing relative humidity of 93 per cent, Mr. Schwindenhammer said.

Mr. Kremer, in affiliation with New York-based Citicorp Venture Capital, bought Hancor from the Child family in 1986.

The company was founded in 1887 to manufacture brick but switched to drainage pipe production in the 1960s.

Mr. Kremer was brought into the company as a consultant to the Childs when they were searching for someone to take it over.

On Jan. 27, Mr. Kremer stepped down as president of the company, handing the reins to Dail Herman, who had been chief executive officer of AutoStyle Plastics, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Mr. Kremer remained the company’s chairman.

He announced last week that the United Way’s fall campaign had raised nearly $2 million for area charities, setting a record for fund-raising.

Officials at the crash site said only that one of the three men killed was a Findlay resident, one lived elsewhere in northwest Ohio, and the third was from out of state.

“They were returning one to his home out of state” and planned to return to the airport yesterday, Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman said.

Liberty Township fire officials and emergency crews helped remove the bodies of the victims, which were sent to the Lucas County coroner’s office in Toledo for autopsies, Dr. Schroeder said.

Man hit, dragged 5 blocks by car, dies

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 20

A 13th Street man was killed last night when a car dragged him for five downtown blocks after hitting him as he crossed a street.

Ralph Jeremy was hit so hard he was knocked out of his shoes, Toledo police said. He was transported to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center after the 6:15 p.m. accident, but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Yesterday was his 67th birthday.

He had celebrated at Michael’s Bar & Grill, 901 Monroe St., and was walking across Monroe near Michigan Avenue, police said. About halfway across, he was hit by a car and thrown onto its hood.

The car’s driver kept going, driving three blocks before turning right on 12th Street. He drove two more blocks down 12th, swerving back and forth and quickly stopping and starting, in an apparent effort to throw the man’s body off the hood, police said.

Near the intersection of 12th and Madison Avenue, Mr. Jeremy’s body fell to the pavement. The driver fled westbound down Madison Avenue.

Late last night, police were looking for a mid to full-sized white sedan made in the mid-1980s. The driver is described as a black male between 24 and 29 years old. The vehicle may be slightly damaged on the right front side, and large amounts of blood may be on the hood and windshield.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStopper at 255-1111.

U.S. to pull workers from federal building

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 21

Federal officials have committed to vacating the Federal Building downtown, a structure that many consider an eyesore and a key target for Toledo’s efforts to beautify the riverfront.

“That should be open space,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). “That riverfront is Toledo’s strongest asset.”

The building, 234 North Summit St., will be empty by the end of September, officials of the General Services Administration said at a closed meeting Wednesday. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to tear it down and make it into an extension of Promenade Park.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the area the Federal Building is located in is central to our revitalization efforts,” the mayor said. “It’s really important that we create a nice panoramic view of the river.”

The meeting was attended by representatives of the federal agencies housed in the building.

City officials emphasized their desire to keep the dislocated employees in downtown offices, not in the suburbs.

“Citizens have come to depend on federal services downtown,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “We want to make sure they stay in downtown.”

Rick Thielen, the city’s manager of downtown development, said federal officials reacted favorably to that request.

“They heard it loud and clear,” Mr. Thielen said. “They made the commitment to stay downtown as long as they found suitable space.”

Mr. Thielen said federal officials have begun to identify potential downtown space for employees but have not identified the sites.

To tear down the building, the city must own it. To do that, Toledo is working out a swap with the federal government that would give the city the federal building to tear down in exchange for land near the federal courthouse on Spielbusch Avenue to be used for judicial office space, Mr. Theilen said.

Miss Kaptur said she would like to see the federal building torn down and replaced with green space and bikeways along the river. She said other Midwest cities have prospered through correct management of their waterfronts.

“The treatment of the lakefront is the reason Chicago remains populated as a city today,” she said.

While employees may find short-term office space downtown, the federal government’s long-term plan is to create a plaza of offices on the Civic Center Mall, Miss Kaptur said.

“It should be something beautiful, a gateway to the city,” she said. “We should hope to win a design award in Architectural Digest.”

The 180,000-square-foot federal building was built in 1962 at a cost of $5 million. Seven stories tall, it houses offices for about 20 federal agencies and 300 employees.

In August, federal officials decided against a renovation plan priced in 1995 at $12 million.

Changes in the real estate market made leasing space down town more attractive, they said, opening the door for a city demolition.

The decision to vacate the building does not affect the post office on Summit Street. Post office land is handled through a separate federal agency, Miss Kaptur said, and negotiations are continuing.

Council looks for efficient ways to keep public informed on issues

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 24

Council’s staff spends about 30 hours each week typing up transcripts to council meetings – many of them never to be touched again by human hands.

The council members who will take office in two weeks consider that a waste of time, and will soon begin considering alternative ways to keep the public informed.

“It’s a question of efficiency,” said Councilman Peter Ujvagi. “We’re still doing what we were doing in 1950.”

By the beginning of this month, 2,036 pages of council transcripts had been published by the clerk’s office during 1997 at a cost of about 1,400 man-hours.

Deputy clerk Sue Duckworth said her office gets about two requests to examine the transcripts every day, or about 500 a year.

With a staff of only six people, devoting nearly all the time of an employee to transcribing takes away from the time staff could be spent on legislative issues, Mr. Ujvagi said.

“We have to make sure that the public and the press have access to the information they need, but we also need to make sure we’re using our staff as efficiently as we can,” the councilman said.

The new council will look at several different options to potentially replace transcribing, including voice recognition technology, he said.

In addition, Ms. Duckworth said, the city might look into contracting transcription out to a private firm to free up the city’s staff.

In addition, it would have the option of simply making tape recordings of the meetings available to the public – something the clerk’s office already does.

Public interest in the transcripts often soar when a particularly contentious issue – like the proposed Home Depot on Secor Road – comes before council.

“For Home Depot, we have people coming in one right after another,” she said. “For issues that are detailed, people come in to find out those details.”

Council members and Law Department officials use the transcripts regularly, she said.

“We have significant traffic. It’s a question of whether or not we have the staff to do it.”

In Columbus – whose city council Toledo’s is hoping to model itself after – the clerk’s office makes tapes of all meetings available to the public, but makes transcripts only when they are requested by city officials.

During an average year, that happens four or five times.

“We just don’t have the demand that Toledo does,” said Angie Blevins, deputy clerk of Columbus’s council.

Tape recordings of the meetings are requested three or four times a month, Ms. Blevins said.

Columbus uses a simple tape recorder like Toledo’s, but a clerk’s office staffer creates an index during each meeting, marking when on the tape each issue is addressed.

Someone asking for the tape later can then be told how far in that issue is discussed.

Ms. Blevins said Columbus has never transcribed meetings and that doing so would require lots of staff time.

“When I was thinking of the time it would take, especially not having as much of a staff [in Toledo as in Columbus], I knew that would be a real job.”

Mr. Ujvagi said he plans for council to reach a decision on the matter within 90 days after the new members take office.

Toledo council goes on the attack; Additional staffers needed to better control agenda, members say

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 25

Toledo council is sick of being force-fed a legislative agenda by the mayor’s office, and its members have begun planning their attack.

“The last four years have been, to put it mildly, challenging,” Councilman Peter Ujvagi said yesterday during a council retreat at One Maritime Plaza. “This is the start of a new era.”

The discussions were the de facto start of Mr. Ujvagi’s term as council president. While an official vote won’t be taken until Jan. 2, he has enough support from council members to elect him to the post, and he was clearly in charge of the meeting of next year’s council.

“I thank you all for the trust you have put in me,” he said.

This fall, outgoing council president Gene Cook created a task force – members C. Allen McConnell, Edna Brown, Gene Zmuda, and Jeanine Perry – to study how council could restructure its staff and internal rules to better control its agenda. Members of the task force traveled to Columbus last month to examine how its council worked.

What they saw surprised them.

“It was a real eye-opener,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “I saw a lot of effectiveness, a lot of efficiency. Their council made informed decisions.”

That efficiency is caused by the relative ease by which council members can receive information about proposed legislation before meetings, he said. Meetings of Toledo’s council, in contrast, are filled with council members’ requests for additional information from administration officials – and that information is often not forthcoming, they said.

“Sometimes it can take weeks to get an answer to a simple question,” Mr. Zmuda said.

With the switch to a strong-mayor form of government in 1993, council did not adjust itself to new political realities, members said. With a strong mayor, the administration can dictate what information is released and effectively control what bills council considers.

“We’ve been living for the last four years as council did under the city manager form of government,” Mr. Zmuda said. “If the administration did not want to see a piece of legislation reach us, it did not get done.”

The task force’s conclusion: Council’s authority can be increased only if it has additional staff to research issues independently of the mayor’s office.

Members point to Columbus as an example. Columbus’s seven council members each have a legislative aide. An independent legislative research office has a director and five staffers, and the clerk of council’s office has about 13 employees, according to Sue Duckworth, deputy council clerk.

In contrast, Toledo’s council clerk’s office has only six staffers. There is no legislative staff, either for council or individual members. Councilmen often have difficulty finding staffers to do basic secretarial work, much less the complex legislative research needed to be a strong council, they said.

“We simply can’t do the job we’ve been charged to do,” Mr. Ujvagi said.

Without staffers to research bills before they reach council, members “spend too much time reacting, and not being proactive,” he said, sometimes making council look uninformed. “To be honest, it’s not putting the best image out to the public.”

Council has asked that money for additional hires be included in the city’s 1998 budget. The task force recommended hiring a full-time legislative director, a staffer to coordinate constituent concerns through city government, a secretary, and a series of graduate student interns from the University of Toledo for research tasks.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s preliminary 1998 budget does not include that money. But Mr. Ujvagi said it might be added in budget negotiations in coming months.

“I think the mayor will work with us,” he said. “He and the administration have been cooperative so far.”

The push to reinvent council comes as its most experienced leaders are leaving office. Along with Mr. Cook, council clerk Larry Brewer is leaving office Jan. 2, taking vacation time for the rest of the month. He began working in the clerk’s office in 1966.

The office received another blow yesterday when Mr. Brewer’s expected successor, Ms. Duckworth, announced her own retirement.

Ms. Duckworth, 51, a former manager of Toledo’s environmental services division, was brought to the clerk’s office in September and was being groomed to take over the clerk’s job.

She said the task force’s recommendations will change the clerk’s job to a much more public, high-profile position, taking much more responsibility for dealing with legislation.

“This is a whole different direction,” she told council members, several of them visibly shocked. “I don’t think I’m the person to take you into this direction.”

Had she been brought into the task force’s work earlier, Ms. Duckworth said, she would have either influenced her job description enough to allow her to stay or, at least, been able to let council know of her resignation earlier.

“I was just introduced to the process by Peter [Ujvagi] about two weeks ago,” she said.

She said she could leave office as soon as next month, but she promised council she would remain on the job long enough to provide for a “seamless” transition. She completed her 30th year in Toledo city government in June.

Throughout the meeting, Mr. Ujvagi emphasized that the vote for president was still weeks off. In 1985 and 1987, he expected to be appointed the city’s vice mayor after being the city’s leading vote-getter, but failed both times.

Mayor again talks of ‘guns on the street’

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner may be preparing to reintroduce legislation that would give Toledo the state’s toughest gun-control laws.

The mayor met yesterday afternoon with local black clergymen and members of the Coalition Against Gun Violence to discuss strategies in their efforts to limit the number of guns on the street.

“We wanted to see how they felt about gun legislation,” said Toby Hoover, the coalition’s director. “They were all very interested.”

The renewed discussions come 11 months after Mr. Finkbeiner submitted a package of tough gun-control laws to council. The measures would have:

* Punished Toledoans who allow children access to guns without adult supervision.

* Required gun owners to register their weapons with Toledo police, paying a $5-a-gun fee.

* Banned the possession or purchase of “Saturday night specials,” a type of small, cheaply made handgun. Officials said the guns are prone to accidents because of their cheap construction, sometimes exploding when fired.

* Banned the possession, purchase, or display of certain semiautomatic weapons.

Violating any of the provisions would have been a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

When the measures were first proposed, council President Gene Cook predicted council would support the mayor’s plan quickly. But facing hundreds of angry gun owners at a Jan. 22 council meeting, council voted 11-0 to send the proposals back to the mayor’s office for revisions. The proposals were not acted upon again.

Mrs. Hoover said the proposals submitted to council in January were discussed at yesterday’s 1 1/2-hour meeting, and leaders are still “very interested” in all of them.

More meetings with community leaders are likely before any legislation is drafted, Mrs. Hoover said. But she said it may be easier to pass gun-control laws now that election-year politics are behind the mayor and council.

“Usually, gun laws are not quite as threatening to elected officials [in an off-year],” she said.

But even in the new year, council and the mayor can expect resistance, a Washington spokesman for the National Rifle Association said.

“People don’t want those kinds of laws,” said Patricia Hylton, whose group has about 2,700 members in the Toledo area. “The focus needs to be on the criminals, not the law-abiding citizens.”

According to the owner of a local gun shop, a new proposal would likely do nothing to stop criminals.

“If it’s anything like the last proposal, there will be stringent controls on legitimate gun owners and nothing to penalize people who do violate the laws,” said Ned Plummer, owner of the Trilby Sport Shop on Secor Road.

City law already makes it hard to buy a gun legitimately, he said. Someone who sees a handgun he wants at his store must go to the city’s office of gun control downtown and apply for an identification card. It takes three to five weeks for the paperwork and a city background check to be done.

After the card is mailed to the prospective buyer, he can go to the gun shop, where he must undergo another background check to satisfy the Brady Bill. Four or five days later, according to Mr. Plummer, he can take home the gun.

Prospective gun owners already go outside the city for most of their business, he said. After three gun shops closed earlier this year, his is the only legitimate gun shop left in Toledo, he said.

“They go to the gun shows, or they go out of town,” he said. “At the gun shows, they don’t have to do the [background check], and they don’t have to pay taxes.”