Mayor’s campaign office lacks necessary permits

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 12

Democratic Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s re-election campaign has been occupying its headquarters for nearly two months without the required city inspections and city-issued permits, The Blade found yesterday.

The building, at 2140 South Byrne Rd., is being leased for the duration of the campaign from retired marine corps Gen. Walter Churchill, an elder statesman of the local Republican party.

Campaign officials were required by law to submit applications for three permits, undergo a thorough inspection, and ensure the facility meets current building codes.

According to city documents, they did none of them.

“We had no idea we needed to take care of this,” said campaign manager Frank Szollosi. “We assumed the leasing company would deal with it.”

Mr. Szollosi said he applied for the necessary permits yesterday afternoon, an hour after being told by The Blade they were required and two months after they were due.

The Ohio Building Code requires that if a storefront is converted into an office, the building’s occupants must submit a new building permit to the city.

City building inspectors must then check to see whether the building is up to code, including compliance with rules on accessibility for the handicapped.

The process usually takes two or more weeks, plus whatever time it takes to renovate the building. Then, the business must file for a certificate of occupancy with the city.

By law, only then can a business move into the building.

Until yesterday, none of the paperwork for the Byrne Road facility had yet been filed. The campaign moved to the building in early June.

According to city documents, the building’s stated use has not changed since 1968, when it was declared fit for “store occupancy.” Officials said a campaign headquarters qualified as a change of use from a storefront.

Until 1992, the building housed the Adventure Shop, which sold outdoors and ski equipment. The store went out of business Feb. 9 of that year, and the space has since been used sporadically for fund-raisers, campaigns, and Christmas tree sales.

Anyone found to be have changed the use of a building without the proper permits must pay a $200 penalty, along with the cost of the missing permits, any necessary renovations, and late fees.

Any business must apply for a separate permit before erecting a sign on its property. Mr. Szollosi submitted an application today for the large sign already attached to the front of the headquarters.

Corky Hong, the plans examiner for the city’s division of building inspection, said that in addition, the inspection office could fine retroactively anyone who previously had occupied the building.

This was not the first time the space has been used to house a political campaign. In 1993, mayoral candidate Paula Pennypacker based her efforts there, and said she did not remember ever submitting any permits to the city.

“We just went in and set up shop,” she said.

Her campaign did not officially lease the space from the Churchills, she said, and accepted its use of the site as an in-kind contribution. “It was a gentleman’s agreement,” she said.

The Finkbeiner campaign leased the property in May from Certified Leasing Co., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Churchill Holding Company, which manages the Churchill’s supermarket chain and other family properties.

The current lease has made for strange bedfellows: Mayor Finkbeiner, a Democrat, and 93-year-old General Churchill, a former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party.

“If we’ve got the space, we’ll rent it to somebody,” General Churchill said. “It’s a nice, clean place.”

General Churchill’s son, Walt, Jr., said he didn’t object to the mayor’s use of the space.

“Mayor Finkbeiner tends to be always in the middle of controversy, but he’s gone to bat for small business and grocers a number of times,” he said.

Still, “I was surprised to see we rented it out to him,” he said.

Mayor Finkbeiner did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.