Obituary: Robert Wyse

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

WAUSEON — Robert Wyse, a farmer who kept his family together through decades of Sunday dinners, died of cancer Saturday at his home. He was 70.

Mr. Wyse was born in Tedrow, O., to a farming family, and lived in the area for his entire life, his children said. He worked a farm until 1992, and also spent 28 years working for J & B Feed Co., both in Wauseon and Swanton.

But his biggest commitment was always to his family. His children said that could best be seen through their weekly Sunday dinner, in which the entire family would go to Mr. Wyse’s house after church for a big family meal. He’d get a chance to play baseball with his grandchildren and catch up with his children.

“It was like his upbringing, keeping the family together,” said his daughter, Michelle Holman. “His mom would have liked that.”

Family members could remember only a handful of Sundays in their lives when they missed dinner with their parents. “It was a tradition, every Sunday,” Mrs. Holman said.

His son, Dennis, praised his father’s strong sense of morality. “He always said, `A Wyse never lies,” he said. “If you made a promise or you took a vow, you kept it. He had very high family values.”

Mr. Wyse learned he had cancer in February, and his final Sunday dinner was June 21. He had been in very poor health for the previous two days, and his son Dennis asked his mother if the children should come over for the traditional meal the next day – Father’s Day.

She insisted they should.

“He was a whole bunch better that Sunday than he had been,” Dennis said. “`He wanted one more Sunday where he could see everybody.”

He also enjoyed fishing and hunting, particularly for fox.

Surviving are his wife, Ila; three sons, Michael, Dennis, and Pete Wyse; a daughter, Michelle Holman; a brother, Melvin Wyse; a sister, Edna Bonar; and nine grandchildren.

Arrangements are being handled by the Edgar-Grisier Funeral Home, Wauseon, where the body will be from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight and 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Evangelical Mennonite Church, Wauseon.

The family requests tributes be made to the Twelfth Man (for the football field at Wauseon High School), Evangelical Mennonite Church Outreach Center, or the charity of the donor’s choice.

Fierce storms batter area; 1 twister touches down; At least 30 people injured

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

A tight cell of extremely severe weather pounded a path across southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio last night, spawning funnel clouds, one tornado that touched down along the Lake Erie coastline, and injuring at least 30 people.

Ottawa County’s Carroll and Erie townships – near the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and in the Camp Perry area, respectively – were hardest hit, with a report of serious damage done to the Green Cove Condominium Resort, Green Cove Marina, and Wild Wings trailer park at State Rt. 2 and Russell Road, just west of the power plant.

The tornado touched down near Davis-Besse, authorities said.

An 18-foot boat with two people aboard was reported to be taking on water about 9 p.m. off West Sister Island, according to the Coast Guard station at Bay View Park in Point Place. They and the Coast Guard’s Detroit Group were still searching for the boaters as of 12:45 a.m. today.

No fatalities were reported, but numerous ambulance and fire units were sent to the area to deal with the injuries. There were reports of damaged houses and barns, trees and utility poles that had been blown down, and widespread power outages.

The Ottawa County sheriff’s department declared a state of emergency and stopped all traffic into the county. At least two shelters were opened for those left homeless.

Route 2 was closed between Bono and the Edison Bridge near Sandusky.

Air ambulances took at least two people to Toledo hospitals, one to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and the other to Medical College of Ohio Hospital. The victims’ conditions were not available early today.

Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton had treated about 20 people by midnight, and expected more.

Fremont Memorial Hospital had treated eight people by midnight.

St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon received one storm victim.

At the Green Cove condo development several of the buildings were flattened. Around the complex, insulation and pieces of the structures were strewn across the ground, draping road signs.

George Randas, president of the Green Cove Resort One Owners Association, who said he “saw the sky spinning,” estimated the damage to the complex at $3 million, a figure he called “probably low.

“This one’s gone, gone, gone, gone,” he said, pointing at one of two condo buildings he called “totally wasted.”

He estimated at least 200 of the development’s roughly 380 condos were damaged.

Mary Klosinksi witnessed the storm from under a mattress in her condo, with her 4-year-old grandson tight against her.

Ms. Klosinski’s daughter, Dawn, was waiting tables at the Toussaint Restaurant and Lounge on Route 2 when the storm hit. About 10 to 15 customers took refuge in a walk-in cooler. Dawn had just rented one of the condos earlier in the day; it was not damaged.

David Matzinger, of nearby Sand Beach, said that 20 minutes of wind and rain knocked trees onto house roofs and tore power lines, sealing the area in darkness.

“It certainly was a hell of a wind storm,” Mr. Matzinger said. In his house on the lake, a sliding door was blown off its track and into the living room.

“The wind and the rain was coming down so hard that if it was a funnel, I don’t think anyone would have seen it,” Mr. Matzinger said. “It was a mess.”

Davis-Besse shut down automatically when transmission lines between it and a plant in Pennsylvania were severed because of the storm, Edison spokesman Chuck Krueger said.

Three of the utility’s high-tension transmission line towers were toppled in Ottawa County.

At Camp Perry in Ottawa County, a motel’s roof was blown off.

So surgical were the strikes that cities less than 10 miles from tornado sightings reported nothing more severe than a heavy breeze.

The storm began to move into the area about 6:30 p.m. National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated a developing tornado 16 miles west of Ann Arbor, Mich., or 15 miles northwest of Saline, Mich., moving southeast at 30 mph.

As it moved through Monroe County, the storm produced 60 mph winds in Carleton and Temperance, and three-quarter-inch hail at the Fermi II nuclear power plant near Monroe, according to the weather service.

About 35 minutes later, Doppler radar indicated a tornado 11 miles northwest of Port Clinton, or 10 miles northwest of Catawba Island, moving southeast at 25 mph. A law enforcement officer indicated a possible tornado touchdown near Jerusalem Township, the weather service said.

A tornado was reported on the ground at 8:55 p.m. near Davis-Besse, the weather service said.

In Sandusky County, south of Ottawa County, roofs had been blown off buildings, trees were down, and a silo had been knocked down, said Bea Parrish, director of the Sandusky County Emergency Management Agency.

She said the storm moved through Fremont and hit Vickery and Clyde, which was without power.

On the Ohio Turnpike, at 9:21 p.m., the highway patrol received calls for five accidents within four miles of one another, between mile markers 94 and 98 in the Fremont area. At each accident, a tractor-trailer had been flipped over. Three people were injured in the accidents, and all were taken to Memorial Hospital in Fremont.

Toledo Edison spokeswoman Luann Sharp said about 4,000 customers were without power in Point Place, along with an undetermined number in Ottawa County and other neighboring counties.

Storm damage shut off Ottawa County’s normal police radio system, forcing officers and dispatchers to switch to old equipment.

On State Rt. 53 near Port Clinton, traffic was backed up for more than a mile while workers removed trees and other debris from the road.

About 100 yards north of Little Portage Road, a massive uprooted tree blocked northbound traffic on Route 53.

Nearby, two cabin cruisers, one about 25 feet long, apparently had been blown from the Happy Days Boating Co.’s lot onto the road. The boats were removed to a roadside ditch so that traffic could pass.

The storm first blew up over southwestern Michigan in the early evening, then tracked through Ann Arbor, where baseball-sized hail and winds over 70 mph were reported, according to Laura Hannon, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, Inc., a private forecasting service in State College, Pa.

The storm gained strength over Lake Erie, Ms. Hannon said.

From there, “it just creamed Ottawa County,” she said.

“It’s one lone supercell thunderstorm,” Ms. Hannon said. “It’s not a line of storms. It’s very focused, very tight, very surgical.”

She said the supercell was caused by instability as two airmasses collided over the area.

In Oregon, as throughout the region, trees were knocked down on cars and power wires.

“It just came up fast, blowing hard,” said Randy Gillen, a foreman for Oregon’s street department who saw the storm coming from his Colchester Road home and was cleaning up the city afterward. He said a mobile home had been overturned at Bay Shore and Stadium roads.

“The sky was white, then it was yellow, then it just picked up the water right out of the lake and dumped it on us, like a wall of water,” said Dave Wohlgamuth, who lives on Lakeway Drive and saw the storm approach while standing on the shoreline.

He ran back to his house, where it took the strength of three people to close his front door.

Monroe County reported severe weather, with lots of heavy wind and trees down, but no funnel clouds.

Blade staff writers Mike Bartell, Kim Bates, Dee Drummond, Tom Henry, Tom Jewell, Mark Reiter, Jane Schmucker, and Vanessa Gezari, Blade news assistant Lillian Covarrubias, and Blade correspondents Gene Parsons and Greg Peiffer contributed to this report.

Obituary: Janet Skeldon

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 21

Janet Skeldon, mother of Toledo city councilwoman Tina Skeldon Wozniak whose loves included her family, her hometown, and baseball, died yesterday at Mrs. Wozniak’s home of complications from respiratory disease. She was 74.

Born and reared in Toledo, Mrs. Skeldon attended Libbey High School. It was there she met her husband of 26 years, Ned Skeldon, who became an influential area Democratic politician.

One love the Skeldons shared, and passed on to their five children, was baseball. Mrs. Skeldon was a lifelong fan of the Tigers and almost never missed a game, either on television or the radio.

When she was taken to the hospital Friday, the first thing she wanted from home was her radio so she could keep up with the Tigers.

“Almost every visitor came up to her and said, `How are the Tigers doing?’ and, `When are they gonna win some more games?”‘ Mrs. Wozniak said.

For his part, Mr. Skeldon helped bring the Mud Hens to Toledo in the 1960s; their stadium in Maumee is named in his honor.

“We’d go to the games, and my mother would explain baseball to me,” Mrs. Wozniak said. “That’s what I remember about my childhood. It was such an all-American thing to do.”

Mrs. Skeldon spent most of her life as a homemaker – she was known for her soup – but worked about 10 years at the Lion store in Southwyck Shopping Center.

Her biggest passion, even greater than baseball, was her five children. She spoke with them by phone or in person almost daily and was always there for them in times of need, they said.

When Mrs. Wozniak entered the political arena, she often would turn to her mother to get a read on how Toledoans might react to a proposal.

“She always had a read on something about to happen,” Mrs. Wozniak said. “She had great common sense.” For example, Mrs. Skeldon predicted that May’s sales tax vote to fund a new stadium for the Mud Hens would fail.

Her children, who have spread across the country, often offered Mrs. Skeldon to move in with them. But she always insisted on staying in Toledo.

“She always knew this was the best place,” Mrs. Wozniak said.

When she was told that Toledo had won the title of All-America City, “her eyes got as big as saucers, she was so thrilled,” her daughter said.

Surviving are a son, James Skeldon; four daughters, Sandy Lynch, Judy Balyeat, Debi Deeth, and Tina Skeldon Wozniak; a sister, Donna Tappan; 16 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 4 p.m. today at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 2255 Central Grove Ave. There is no visitation. Arrangements are by the Coyle Funeral Home.

The family requests tributes to the Northwest Ohio Hospice Association.

Authorities seek phony police officer who took car from teens in W. Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

Toledo police have released a composite sketch of a suspect being sought for a carjacking Sunday night in West Toledo.

Police said two teenagers were sitting in a car in the parking lot of Fairgreen Lutheran Church, 3220 West Laskey Rd., about 10:45 p.m. when a man claiming to be a police officer opened the front left door and demanded that the driver turn the car over to him.

The teenagers asked to see the man’s badge and tried to drive away when he didn’t produce one.

But the man jumped onto the door frame, punched the driver, and forced the passenger into the back seat.

The man drove them to a gas station at Laskey and Secor roads and let them out after threatening to arrest them. He then drove off.

About two hours later, police saw the car traveling on Highland Avenue. When the driver turned without using his signal, he was stopped.

The driver, Lawrence Fagan, of 3202 Parkwood Ave., told officers he had just bought the car from another man – the suspect in the carjacking – on Maplewood Avenue for $100. Mr. Fagan was taken into custody and charged with receiving stolen property along with several traffic offenses.

The suspect in the carjacking is described by both the teenagers and Mr. Fagan as being about 28 years old, with light brown hair and red shorts. The teenagers said he was wearing a red shirt; Mr. Fagan said it was white. Anyone with information about the car jacking is asked to call the Crime Stopper program.

A Slice of Summer: Some dive, others jump for joy

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 20

This is the first in an occasional series that looks at how people are savoring the pleasures of summer around the Toledo area.

A kiddie pool is a glorified puddle. Let’s be clear about that – it’s some cement, a foot of water, and a ton of chlorine.

It’s certainly not the Big Kid pool, and that’s the basic divide at Ravine Park, where summer frolicking started last week.

On Fridays, the East Toledo Family Center’s summer camp takes its kids, aged 3 to 13, to the pool for an afternoon of splishing and splashing. Among last Friday’s crew were three children happy to be getting wet: 5-year-old Adrianna Estrada and 4-year-olds Jacob Conine and Brent Lutz.

Time and again, they followed what looked like a ritual: walking briskly to about five feet away from the kiddie pool, asking anyone within earshot to “watch!,” then racing into the pool with a splash. Then they’d get up, climb out, and do it again.

Perhaps not the safest maneuver, but it certainly looked like they were having fun.

“I like diving,” Brent offered.

But the allure of the real diving going on at the Big Kid pool, separated from them only by a fence, some grass, and puberty, was not lost on these kids.

“I’m gonna go up on the high dive soon,” Jacob insisted.

“No way! He’s scared,” Adrianna insisted.

“I’m not scared,” Jacob replied.

“I am,” Adrianna admitted.

Their debate concluded, the trio continued their racing and jumping at the kiddie pool, while the Big Kids, almost an abstraction, soared off the high dive. (Some of them, rumor had it, were so old they had driven to the pool. On their own.)

At 10:03 this morning, the Earth’s axis wobbles a hair, and summer begins, according to the meteorologists. Much more importantly, these kids get one year closer to the Big Kid pool.

Deshler duped by a ‘doctor’ with no degree; Ohio family practice resident of ’97 won patient raves

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 8

By all accounts they were happy to get him.

Neel Sheth had agreed to move to the village of Deshler to be the town doctor. For a decade, Deshler’s leaders had been trying to attract doctors to their tiny spot on the Henry County map. Some came to stay for a year, some two, but they’d all leave.

“It’s important to have a doctor in town you can call at any time of the day or night,” said Donald Tussing, the longtime mayor of Deshler’s 1,700 people.

So when Dr. Sheth appeared – a budding star, the state’s family practice resident of the year, winner of rave reviews from patients – they thought they’d struck gold.

“We are very fortunate to have him,” said Henry County Hospital CEO Bob Coholich in April. It was front page news in the local paper.

On June 2, Dr. Sheth made the papers again, this time only as Mr. Sheth. He had been discovered as a fraud, law enforcement officials said. He had no medical degree, no medical license, no right to practice medicine.

In the law’s mind, he also had no right to prescribe medication, which is why on July 7 he will be arraigned on two felony drug-trafficking charges, with more charges possible.

Mr. Sheth declined to be interviewed for this article. His story is, like Dennis Roark’s, a cautionary tale about how some fake doctors slip through the system.

How did a man whose last diploma was from a high school end up convincing people he is a doctor?

And, just as curious, how can he be, in the opinion of several people, one of the state’s most promising physicians?

Neel Sheth was raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., the son of immigrants from India. His father had a good job as an engineer for Ford Motor Co., and young Neel started to dream of life as a doctor, a healer.

“He’s wanted to be a doctor forever,” said his wife, Julie, who has known him since they were children.

He was an excellent student, she said, getting mostly A’s at Huron High School. He and Julie stayed local for college, starting at the University of Michigan in 1986. She studied nursing, and he got into the college of pharmacy. He enrolled in a bachelor of science program in pharmaceutical sciences, a sparsely populated major with only a handful of students. According to the college, the program does not train graduates sufficiently to be certified as pharmacists; it’s most often used for students going on to PhD work.

His wife said Mr. Sheth was a fine student at U of M, averaging about a 3.8 grade-point average. But when his time at U of M came to an end at the end of 1990, despite his good grades, he didn’t have a degree. University officials will say only that he did not complete the degree requirements for the college of pharmacy.

But he still wanted to be a doctor, and the lack of a college degree did not stop Mr. Sheth from applying to a medical school – the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.

Many American medical schools, including MCO, do not require an undergraduate degree for admission as long as a student has completed the pre-med requirements – a lengthy list of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and other fields that don’t add up to any single major.

MCO accepted Mr. Sheth into its medical school in 1991. Officials knew he did not have an undergraduate degree, but “not every student has a degree when he or she arrives,” said MCO associate dean Dr. Mary Smith.

Members of Mr. Sheth’s class at MCO have mostly sketchy memories of him. Some remember seeing him in classes; some remember his name on the alphabetical list of students that MCO administrators used for dozens of purposes.

When asked why Mr. Sheth did not graduate from medical school, MCO spokesman Jim Winkler first said he had not passed part one of the National Board of Medical Examiners, a test of basic science and anatomy taken at the end of a student’s second year. When asked later about it again, Mr. Winkler retracted the comment and said he was not allowed to discuss the specifics of Mr. Sheth’s case.

Mrs. Sheth confirmed that her husband did not graduate because he failed to pass a board test. She said he had told her he had retaken the test and passed, something MCO’s records do not reflect.

(Mrs. Sheth filed for divorce from her husband about 18 months ago, but they speak regularly because of their three shared children.)

At MCO, but not at all medical schools, a student failing part one of the boards is allowed to continue taking classes with his fellow students. The only barrier is that the student must pass the board eventually in order to graduate.

Mr. Winkler confirmed that Mr. Sheth attended MCO for the four years standard for his class but did not graduate.

According to his wife, another important factor emerged on Aug. 11, 1994, when Mr. Sheth and two of his children were in a car accident near their home in Saline. It left one of the children critically injured and Mr. Sheth with serious ankle injuries that required several surgeries to repair.

Mr. Sheth fell behind in his work at MCO, his wife said, and never caught up. “Since the car accident, it’s just been one thing after another.”

It is standard practice for fourth-year med students to apply for entry into a residency program in the field of their interest. For Mr. Sheth, that was family practice, and one of the programs he applied to was at Flower Hospital in Sylvania. Flower’s family practice residency program was the first in Ohio and one of the first 12 nationwide.

Flower’s application process requires letters of recommendation, a medical school transcript, and a copy of a medical school diploma.

From Mr. Sheth, Flower officials got the letters, and they got the transcript. They never got the diploma and never asked MCO for a copy when one didn’t arrive.

“Honestly I don’t know why,” said Flower spokesman Tim Langhorst, trying to explain the lapse. “We didn’t do the proper level of checking.”

And so Neel Sheth, whose last diploma reads Huron High School and who had failed a basic anatomy test, was allowed to walk the halls of Flower Hospital, seeing patients, prescribing medications, and playing doctor.

What some might find most surprising about the story of Neel Sheth is that he was, by most accounts, a fine physician.

“I believe he was an excellent doctor,” said his wife. “He always got good reviews.”

And last September, when Flower was asked to name its top resident for nomination to the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, Mr. Sheth got the nod. The academy named him one of 17 “outstanding residents” for the state of Ohio for his “community service, service to the academy, teaching, leadership, and involvement in special projects.”

Most stirring are the words of one of his patients, a woman willing to call Mr. Sheth “my savior” and who did not want to be identified for this article.

She was throwing up blood when she met Mr. Sheth in the emergency room at Flower. He was a first-year resident fresh out of MCO.

A patient with a slew of chronic ailments who had problems confiding in physicians, she took a liking to the young resident.

“I always had a hard time trusting doctors,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of quacks.”

She was admitted for treatment, and Mr. Sheth checked on her regularly throughout her stay. She said he seemed professional, bright, and sensitive.

“I thought he was sensational,” she said. “Just brilliant, brilliant.”

The woman made him her regular doctor, sometimes seeing him several times a week for her many ailments. She stayed under his care throughout his residency, and her health improved.

Mr. Sheth prescribed his patient a host of drugs over the three years he treated her. Among them: Ultram, a pain pill; Lipitor, for cholesterol; Normadine, for blood pressure; Norphalex, a muscle relaxant, and Nasonex, for her sinuses.

“He always knew what to give me,” she said. “He knew me medically very well, much better than any other doctor ever has. It helped me feel much, much better.

“He was very professional. He acted just like what a doctor should act like,” the woman said. “He had an awful lot of patients who just loved him to pieces.”

She said she was “stunned” and “numb” when it became public that her doctor was not a doctor. She said she told him things she would not tell her family members. He was the only person she fully trusted.

“I told him up front that I wanted honesty, when I saw him the first time. He’s the only doctor I ever confided in. Now I don’t know if I can ever trust a doctor again.”

Henry County Hospital, in its attempts to start a clinic in Deshler, had hoped to bring in a different doctor, Dr. Eric Smith, but he is Canadian and there were immigration issues holding up the move.

So they turned to Mr. Sheth.

“Dr. Sheth saw the need and has made the commitment,” Mr. Coholich wrote in his letter to all Henry County residents. Mr. Sheth is a signal of “the hospital’s focus on physician recruitment,” he wrote.

The hospital renovated part of a nursing home to make room for the new town doctor. Mr. Sheth was set to start his practice there in August.

Problems began to mount, though, in April, when he applied for privileges on the medical staff at Flower Hospital, where he had been for the last three years. With privileges, Mr. Sheth would have been able to treat his Deshler patients at Flower if equipment there was needed.

But Flower’s policies require the hospital to check the backgrounds of anyone requesting privileges, including checking up on their education. The fact that Mr. Sheth had no medical school diploma became known, and he was thrown out of the residency program and his case turned over to law-enforcement authorities, officials at Flower said.

But after Flower learned Mr. Sheth was a fraud, they did not notify any other hospitals – even though the hospital knew he had been searching for other work and at least some of his patients and colleagues knew he had landed a job in Deshler.

“We did not notify anyone, no,” Mr. Langhorst said. Henry County Hospital officials learned about Mr. Sheth’s legal troubles through the physician rumor mill.

Mr. Coholich said Mr. Sheth would have had to undergo a similar credentialing process at Henry County Hospital and that the snag that caught him at Flower would have caught him there.

That doesn’t answer the question why the hospital hired him and put his face on brochures sent to every household in the county before doing a background check.

“Our premise is that he was in a residency program, so we didn’t check how he got into that residency program,” Mr. Coholich said.

Even with the legal concerns hanging over Mr. Sheth’s head, Mr. Coholich paused a few seconds before answering if he would consider hiring Mr. Sheth again.

“Just because he wasn’t up front with us initially, no,” he said. “He is a good, knowledgeable physician. He just had these other issues with the boards.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Sheth is preparing his legal defense and, according to his soon-to-be ex-wife, studying for the medical board tests and looking for another residency.

Decision due in Finkbeiner case; Prosecutor must rule on plea bargain in financial disclosure violation

By Tom Troy and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

Page 11

The special prosecutor assigned to handle an ethics investigation of Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he will decide this week whether to approve a plea bargain in the case.

Kevin Baxter, Erie County prosecutor, said yesterday that he is reviewing the Finkbeiner case and similar cases.

But he suggested that he will agree with the plea-bargain deal proposed by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

“I’ve always found them to be very thorough and detailed,” Mr. Baxter said of the ethics commission. “They have good judgment and discretion. In my review thus far, there is nothing to make me think differently about this case. I say that with the caveat that I have not finished the review.”

A four-year investigation by the ethics commission found evidence that the mayor failed to disclose a $10,000 payment he received in a real-estate deal his administration helped arrange.

The mayor has said his failure to list the 1994 payment on his state financial disclosure statement was an oversight. He has agreed that the failure is a violation of the law but says he hasn’t done anything unethical.

Monarch Development Co. paid the mayor and others who owned Commodore Island condominiums for agreeing to move from their homes early. The condominiums were moved so Owens Corning could build its headquarters on the Middlegrounds in downtown Toledo.

The mayor’s $10,000 payment was the least amount paid to the owners.

The commission agreed to dismiss two pending alleged first-degree misdemeanor complaints in return for the mayor’s guilty plea to a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

The mayor was facing the possibility of a six-month jail term and a $1,000 fine for each of the two first-degree misdemeanors. The maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

The charges must be presented in court by a prosecutor. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates asked that a special prosecutor be appointed, because she and Mr. Finkbeiner have contributed money to each other’s political campaigns.

Mr. Baxter said he is reviewing the allegations and the proposed deal and will contact the ethics commission with his decision as early as today. Should he choose not to recommend the plea bargain, Mr. Baxter can prosecute Mr. Finkbeiner on the first-degree misdemeanor charges.

Mr. Baxter met June 4 with officials of the Ohio Ethics Commission for two hours to discuss the case. David Freel, the ethics commission’s executive director, said the commissioners are waiting to hear Mr. Baxter’s decision.

Mr. Finkbeiner could not be reached for comment last night. His attorney, Tom Palmer, said he respects Mr. Baxter’s need to review the case and confer with the ethics commission. “I look forward to discussing this matter with him when he’s prepared to do so,” he said.

Lucas GOP survives tiffs, skirmishes to elect Talmage

By Joshua Benton and Fritz Wenzel
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

It was a difficult birthing for the new Lucas County Republican Party yesterday, full of fits and starts, anger and accusations.

But when it was all over, the Grand Old Party was left with an outlook more optimistic than anything it has been able to muster for years.

“I am very, very excited about the party’s future,” said Toledo Clerk of Court Maggie Thurber, after the GOP’s biennial reorganizational meeting of its central committee yesterday at Churchill’s Supermarket in Sylvania.

But before party members reached that stage of self-confidence, they had to struggle through almost two hours of insults and infighting, mostly pitting more than a hundred committee members new to organized politics against the party’s more experienced wing.

All the battles made the most anticipated part of the meeting – the appointment of a new party chairwoman, Diana “Dee” Talmage – almost seem to be an afterthought.

The origins of yesterday’s conflicts can be traced to last year, when a grassroots coalition of Republican activists, led by Paula Pennypacker, announced they would be aiming to retake control of the party from a leadership they considered stagnant, unoriginal, and dictatorial – the old guard, they called them.

Their proposed method: recruiting political newcomers to run for the office of precinct chairman, known as precinct captain. The party’s central committee is made up of all those precinct chairmen and they are responsible for party policy, as well as electing a party chairman.

The coalition’s efforts were rewarded in last month’s elections, when a record number of men and women were elected precinct chairmen, most of them without any previous political experience. When the 223 people present at yesterday’s meeting were asked to raise their hands if they were first-timers, about three-quarters did. The total attendance was at least twice as high as the last meeting’s, party members said.

Several incidents stoked the passions of the newcomers and some political veterans alike, but the most notable was a flap over who should be the central committee’s chairman.

Mike Griswold has held that post for the last two years. In pushing for his re-election, he said he had been a source of stability in a period when the party has cycled through five chairmen.

Before the meeting started, a competitor emerged in Susan Abood, the Ward 21 chairman. She promised to make precinct captains work harder to push up the party’s profile. “We are stagnant. We cannot go back to two years ago,” she said.

But when nominations were opened for the job, only Mr. Griswold’s name was offered, by former mayoral candidate Nick Wichowski.

Ms. Abood said Ms. Thurber was supposed to nominate her, with state Rep. John Garcia (R., Toledo) seconding, but “there was a miscommunication.”

That absence started the confusion among newcomers, most of whom were holding Abood fliers in their hands and wondering why the candidate was not being mentioned. A motion to close nominations was met with about half yeas and half nays, but party leaders said it passed.

Under parliamentary procedure, the next step should have been to have a vote on Mr. Griswold’s candidacy. And the men running the meeting – Mr. Griswold, John Birmingham, and Paul Komisarek – said one was indeed taken.

But dozens and dozens of precinct captains and independent observers didn’t hear any vote, no matter what those three said.

“There was no vote, no,” said committeeman Jan Scotland of Precinct 6-F.

“There was a vote, absolutely,” said Mr. Birmingham, who as parliamentarian ruled several motions seeking to open debate out of order. He was wearing an “I Like Mike” button supporting Mr. Griswold.

As the meeting went on, more and more precinct captains began to voice aggressive objections to the proceedings, and the old guard responded in kind.

“If everybody didn’t hear [the vote], I’m sorry, but you have to pay attention,” Mr. Birmingham said.

“How do I get on the railroad committee?” yelled one man, to a round of applause.

“I ran for office because I thought the party had an arrogant attitude,” said newly elected Joe Hoken of Precinct 18-D. “The new folks don’t need things lectured to them like they’re children.”

When he spoke, Mr. Griswold was faced with calls from genuinely confused committeemen. “Did we elect you?” one asked. “We don’t know who you are,” said another. “What’s your name?” a third asked.

Mr. Griswold said he would not support reopening the nominations process. “We’ve already taken the vote,” he said.

But support for a reopening was strong, and when several precinct captains moved to reopen nominations, the body approved it overwhelmingly. Ms. Abood was nominated, and a roll call vote was taken amid more fiery arguments over even the smallest procedural decisions.

When the votes were tallied, Mr. Griswold was still re-elected, 145-77. He invited Ms. Abood up to the podium, hugged her, and kissed the top of her head, calling for unity.

There were other battles, including a sometimes nasty fight over whether the committee should readopt its current bylaws. Almost none of the newcomers knew what was in those bylaws; the party had not given them copies.

That battle featured many new Republicans saying things like “How can I vote on something I’ve never seen?” and more experienced ones exasperated at the conflict over what they considered a procedural issue.

“For goodness sakes, let’s adopt these bylaws!” said Mark Berling, a former GOP executive director.

They ended up doing so by voice vote, with a smattering of no votes outnumbered by a chorus of yeses.

The old guard, unaccustomed to the battles, were barraged all meeting long by questions from the rookies – some inquisitive, some accusing.

For those who helped bring all the newcomers into the committee, the experience was rewarding.

“This room had to show them today that the same old good-old-boy stuff is done,” said Dennis Lange, one of the founders of the grassroots effort. “I was about to go to my van and get the train whistle I bought for today, because we were getting railroaded.”

But after the final vote for central committee chairman, the mood clearly shifted. When Ms. Talmage’s candidacy was presented for party chairman, no opposition candidates were offered, and she was swept into office on a unanimous voice vote.

“Thank you so much for the honor of serving the party,” she said.

Ms. Talmage, an Ottawa Hills school board member and the first woman to lead the party, said she will emphasize a “big tent” style in her time as chairman, reaching out to the young, the old, and women.

“We are the party of inclusion, of fresh ideas,” she said.

“You would not be far off calling it revolutionary,” Ms. Thurber said about the new chairman. “She’s so totally different in personality and style.”

But some Republicans worry that her other community commitments could distract her.

“I’m happy for Dee,” said Ms. Pennypacker, who moved to her new home in Arizona Friday. “But I remain concerned about whether she will have enough time to devote as chairman. It’s going to take a lot of work.”

Party leaders said a transition team would be set up to help Ms. Talmage in her first months in the office.

“I know this if a big job, but I’m committed to doing whatever it takes,” she said.

At the meeting’s end, Mr. Komisarek presented an imported Italian ashtray to Jim Brennan, the party chairman Ms. Talmage replaces and who has faced criticism for not being inclusive of others’ opinions.

“There are a lot of people out there who, admit it or not, know that you did a good job,” Mr. Komisarek said.

“You have seen democracy in action,” Mr. Brennan said of the morning’s fights. “It’s just a little messy, and it’s not as efficient as a dictatorship, which is something I’ve been accused of plenty of times.

“But the important thing is: it works.”

Talmage gets panel’s nod to head GOP

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

As expected, Dee Talmage has gotten the nod from a Lucas County GOP committee to be the next party chairman, but a prominent party activist fears the job may be too big for the Ottawa Hills school board member.

Ms. Talmage, 58, won the unanimous support of about 20 search committee members in a voice vote last night at party headquarters downtown.

Until yesterday, Ms. Talmage had not committed to taking the position because of the level of her other community activities. But last night, she said she had decided, “If elected, I will serve.”

Search committee Chairman Jim Smythe said: “I think she has the greatest opportunity ever to unite this party.”

The Republican Party has faced significant internal dissent in the last year, as activist Paula Pennypacker has led a grass-roots campaign to topple current party Chairman James Brennan, 72.

Thanks in large part to her efforts, about two-thirds of the party’s incoming central committee hasn’t held a position in the party.

They were elected in a massive write-in campaign last month.

Ms. Pennypacker said Ms. Talmage was “the best of the candidates who were interviewed.” But she said she feared the nominee might have too many community obligations to do a good job.

Ms. Talmage is involved with a number of civic groups – her resume lists 16 – and is planning to be very involved in a school levy campaign in Ottawa Hills this fall.

“I hope she’s not biting off more than she can chew,” Ms. Pennypacker, a former Toledo mayoral candidate, said. “This is a big job.

“I envision it as being a full-time position,” she said.

In addition, she said she will encourage new central committee members to consider other options when they vote on the chairman’s post during the party’s organizational meeting, which is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Church ill’s Supermarket on Monroe Street in Sylvania.

“I want them to know it is just a recommendation, and names can be brought forward at the meeting from the floor,” she said.

Ms. Pennypacker is moving from Toledo tomorrow to relocate her business to Arizona.

Last week, an interview subcommittee of the search committee gave Ms. Talmage the nod over Sylvania Township Trustee Dock Treece and Paul Hoag, GOP state central committee member. Party leaders said they believe Ms. Talmage can bring together the party’s warring factions.

“She seems to be able to unite all the different perspectives in the party,” said Jan Scotland, head of the subcommittee that interviewed candidates. “We need that now.”

He said Ms. Talmage would make party membership “more fun,” with party social events to be held throughout the year.

The power behind the Authority; Critics challenge port board to change image

By Joshua Benton and Michael D. Sallah
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

Every time you fly out of Toledo Express Airport without passing through dark, dingy hallways, you can thank them.

Every time you see the Libbey-Owens-Ford world headquarters in downtown Toledo, you see their work.

Every time you watch a freighter pushing slowly past downtown’s skyscrapers, you see their fingerprints.

Is this the work of city officials? The Lucas County commissioners?

No, it’s the work of one of the most obscure and powerful groups in Northwest Ohio, the group most responsible for bringing new jobs to the area: the directors of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Few people know who they are, and fewer understand what they do.

They’re an intensely private group of businessmen who have found success without needing the approval of the public or the press.

They don’t live in the city of Toledo, preferring the privacy of the suburbs. They meet in a boardroom away from the centers of government power, with almost no room for the public, then go home to some of the area’s most exclusive neighborhoods. They are, with few exceptions, white, male, and rich.

And by next year, they will face a task unusual for a group so used to running things in private: going before the people to ask for more money.

Their actions have come under great scru tiny in the last year from the media, the public, and the FBI. And now, they’re fighting back.

“There’s too much negativity out there” focused at the port authority, said Dr. Richard Ruppert, a board member for more than a decade and a former chairman.

The bulk of the port authority’s operating budget, which was $10.4 million in 1997, comes from revenue generated at Toledo Express Airport from landing fees and other charges, and from fees generated from the Port of Toledo.

In November, Lucas County voters may decide whether the port authority should continue to receive $2.2 million a year in property taxes to attract businesses and jobs to Northwest Ohio.

Its 0.4-mill levy expires at the end of this year, and agency officials are weighing asking voters to renew it this fall. Even if the levy is not renewed, proceeds from it would continue to flow to the agency through the end of 1999.

It will be a tough fight.

The agency stands accused of lavish spending, sloppy record keeping, and breaking state open records laws. And for an agency little known to the public, the bad publicity could be fatal to its levy campaign, perhaps leading officials to postpone it altogether, until next year.

A poll of 685 likely voters in April by Louis Harris and Associates of New York City found that more than 80 per cent considered the port’s spending patterns a serious concern. And at least one former board member, former Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Boyle, has said any chance of passing the levy is “already dead.”

“Right now, they need to build up their credibility,” said Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commissioners, who appoint half of the board.

She said she would have “serious concerns” about the levy’s chances of success.

If the levy fails, it could cripple what is arguably the port’s most critical mission: economic development and jobs. For the past nine years, the port authority has been the region’s lead agency for job creation, and it has numerous success stories to its credit: taking the lead in restoring Central Union Terminal, helping to lure a new steel mill to Delta, and record profits and passenger levels at the airport.

“There has been some terrific progress recently,” said board member Ed Shultz.

Board members are gearing up for the fight by hiring PR firms and buying promotional ads. The port authority’s president returned last month from a seminar he decided to attend, entitled “Dealing With An Angry Public,” at a cost of more than $1,000.

It will cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more, they say, to polish the port’s image for a levy fight, but port board members say it’s necessary for job creation to continue in this area.

Four years ago, the port board created the Regional Growth Partnership as its economic development arm, with 66 per cent of the levy money dedicated to that mission.

“It’s very important,” said Dr. Ruppert. “Most of the money goes to the partnership to create jobs.”

On the port board, disagreements are rare.

Since July, 1997, there has been only one “no” vote cast on any issue at a port board meeting. And at monthly meetings from November, 1997, to April, yeas have outnumbered nays 730-0. (Minutes for May’s meeting are not yet available.)

Debra Schaefer, a former port board member who left office in July, 1997, was surprised to hear of the string of yes votes.

“I sure as heck remember more no votes going on in my tenure,” she said. “I have to scratch my head.”

The rubber-stamping and lack of any spirited debate led Mr. Boyle to abruptly walk out in the middle of a meeting, resign his post, and declare his colleagues a “good fellowship society.”

Board members defend their actions, saying they don’t want to be distracted by politicking and backbiting.

“It’s a highly educated board, and there are highly successful people on that board,” said board chairman Jim Poure. “They’re not dummies. They’re not lackeys.”

But others say continuous unanimous votes are a sign of a troubling lack of diversity, in opinion and background.

“Thirteen-to-nothing votes over and over by a bunch of powerful, mostly white guys is a throwback to another era, let’s face it,” said Dr. John Chamberlin, interim dean at the school of public policy at the University of Michigan.

The 12 current members – there is one open seat – have never held elected office and have precious little campaign experience. Their style is more corporate than populist:

* They rarely debate issues openly or with the give-and-take the world associates with the democratic system.

* They shut out members of the press trying to cover their meetings, according to a pending lawsuit filed against the port by The Blade.

* The city and county officials who appoint them have complained regularly that board members keep them in the dark about important issues, preferring to keep decisions within their inner circle.

And, despite the fact that 70 per cent of the people they serve live in the city of Toledo, not one of the port board members lives there. Several are millionaires, having built their fortunes as entrepreneurs.

Founded in 1955, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority was the first port authority in Ohio. Its initial role was to manage the bustling seaport, then the only deep-water seaport on the Great Lakes and the world’s largest source of coal shipping.

Over the last 43 years, the port authority has accumulated great powers and greater responsibilities. In 1973, it took control of Toledo Express Airport, the first airport built without federal funds after World War II. And in 1989, during an economic recession, the port authority became the lead development agency in Northwest Ohio, charged with creating jobs.

The agency has become a major economic force in the area, with an operating budget topping $10 million a year and more than $6 million in construction contracts issued last year.

“They have far more responsibilities today than they had years ago,” said Ms. Isenberg.

But with the additional power has not come a higher profile.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said Rochelle Davis, 39, a TARTA bus driver, when asked if she knew who the directors of the port board are. But does she know who Carty Finkbeiner and Sandy Isenberg are? “Sure, who doesn’t?”

“Unless you read the paper, you probably don’t know who they are,” said Candy Postlewaite, 54, an Owens-Illinois employee, who said most of her information about the port came from a Blade story in February on the spending habits of port staff.

The board was in the spotlight again two weeks ago when members voted to give a $10,000 raise to port president James Hartung, as well as a contract that is automatically renewed each year without a vote – a highly unusual deal for a public official.

On Thursday, Ms. Isenberg sent a letter to Mr. Poure, who was appointed to the board by Mayor Finkbeiner, saying she was “very disappointed” at his lack of communication with her office about the contract extension.

She called the matter “troubling,” noting that she learned about the pay raise by reading about it in the newspaper.

“It becomes difficult to coordinate, evaluate, and implement programs when a leading agency, such as the Port Authority, fails to timely communicate with the Commissioners,” she wrote in a letter signed by all three commissioners.

She said it may become necessary to assign senior county administrators the task of keeping in regular contact with the port. The matter was all the more “disconcerting,” she wrote, because an April 20 letter from the commissioners to Mr. Poure had specifically asked for the commissioners to be kept abreast of port affairs.

Board members said the extension and raise were votes of confidence for Mr. Hartung, in the face of a year of investigations by The Blade.

During that time, the newspaper has reported the results of its investigations into the port authority, including:

* Evidence that funds from federal drug seizures were used to buy a $2,200 desk for Mr. Hartung, $20,000 for exercise equipment for airport police officers’ use, and a $26,500 Ford Explorer, all ostensibly for drug-fighting. The sport-utility vehicle was used by airport director Mark VanLoh. He gave up the vehicle after the news stories were published. The FBI is investigating the port’s drug fund spending.

* High levels of spending on country club memberships, green fees, filet mignon and cognac – topping more than $100,000 per year. Staff members went on trips around the world, including the Swiss Alps, Rio de Janeiro, and other exotic locales. Mr. Hartung took his wife on three of those trips: to Canada, Mexico, and Arizona, billing the public for her stays.

* Sloppy record keeping, including a failure to pay the pro forma $1-per-year lease it must pay the city of Toledo for Toledo Express Airport.

Port officials have reacted strongly to the negative publicity: They have refused to answer reporters’ questions unless they are submitted in writing. And Mr. Poure has asked board members not to speak to the press unless their comments are cleared through him and Mr. Hartung.

All this comes as no surprise to Dr. Thomas Dye, director of the Lincoln Center for Public Service in Tallahassee, Fla., and the author of the most popular college textbook on local politics, Politics in States and Local Communities.

“Successful business people are private people, and typically they take the greatest umbrage at the press,” Dr. Dye said.

Believing that The Blade is biased, the port board has taken to purchasing promotional advertisements in other publications, including Business Ventures, a local magazine published by a former longtime port authority seaport director, Frank Miller. He has penned several articles critical of John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade and a former member of the port board. The port authority has taken out several color, full-page ads in each issue of the magazine.

Several members said the paper’s aggressive reporting has been spurred by a dispute Mr. Block had in June, 1997, with the rest of the board over Grand Aire Express’s insistence on fueling and repairing airplanes at Toledo Express. Mr. Block voted against the proposal, which passed 9-1, because he said it would threaten other businesses already providing that service.

Others say the port is using The Blade to mask its own problems.

“The port authority has had an image of arrogance for years – many years before The Blade ever wrote about them,” said attorney David Zoll, who represents a group of homeowners who live near the airport. They are suing the port and other agencies over the noise created by noisy cargo jets flying over their homes.

Others feel the criticism is unjustified.

“I don’t think that The Blade should be hammering on them like that,” said Don Monroe, director of River East Economic Revitalization Corp., which has cooperated with the port authority on numerous projects.

But he cautioned that the “criticism comes with the territory,” and that if staff members have erred in their jobs, they should face rebuke from the press.

The port board, filled as it is with businessmen from society’s upper strata, has had to face accusations of being out-of-touch for years.

In 1993, then-port board chairman William Boeschenstein resigned after a Blade article revealed he was living in Florida every winter and running port affairs over phone and fax.

Board members have second homes in Florida, Michigan, and Ottawa County. G. Ray Medlin spends most of his time in Washington, where he is the executive director of the Carpenters Health and Safety Fund of North America. He has been absent for four of the last nine board meetings. Mr. Poure has a $465,000 condo on exclusive Marco Island on Florida’s west coast. Outgoing member Mr. Boyle split times between homes in Florida, Michigan, and Toledo.

The port board has also faced regular criticism from airport tenants and neighbors.

Tenants have accused port officials of breaking contracts for short-term economic gain. In 1992, National Flight Services, Inc., which refuels planes at the airport, successfully sued the port for leasing space to a competitor next door to their facility. National Flight settled for $400,000 because the port’s contract with the company specifically prohibited such a move, attorneys said at the time.

Then there’s the case of Susan Dittes, who in 1991 went to a port board meeting and personally invited all the members to her home near the airport to hear the thundering jet engines roaring over her roof early every morning. Only one board member, Bruce Douglas, bothered to respond to her plea, she complained.

“He’s the first human being who actually seems to understand our problems, and who seems to care about the people living out here,” she said at the time of Mr. Douglas, who ran for Ohio governor for a time this year, before pulling out of the race for the Democratic nomination.

“It is an extremely arrogant agency that has never reached out to the people who live there,” Mr. Zoll said.

Because the port board is appointed, not elected, the politicians who could face trouble at the polls as a result of their actions are Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, members of city council, and the Lucas County commissioners. The mayor appoints six members, with council’s approval; the commissioners appoint six; one board member is a joint city-county appointment.

Of the seven current board members Mayor Finkbeiner appointed, none live in the city.

Even though most of her constituents live in Toledo, Ms. Isenberg defended her lack of city appointments. “It’s not a criteria that they live in the city of Toledo,” she said.

Academics say the only way the public can influence the port board’s composition is by putting pressure on the elected leaders who select them.

“The question is how can you get the city and the county, who make the appointments, to get the agency to become more responsible,” said Dr. Herb Asher, professor of political science at Ohio State University.

“The only way you can bring change is by pressuring the city and the county,” said Dr. Chamberlin of the University of Michigan.

The board’s makeup will change this summer, when the four-year terms of David Boston, Thomas Brady, and Timothy Mohler all expire on July 31. A replacement has still not been named for Mr. Boyle, who resigned on April 23. Two of those seats will be filled by the city and two by the county. The three out-going members may seek reappointment.

The new port board team will be in charge of convincing the public they should vote to renew the agency’s 0.4-mill property tax.

At stake is the port authority’s ability to create jobs, and the poor image they say they don’t deserve.

Blade staff writer Chris Osher contributed to this report.