Fuming council members attack the administration and each other

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

In a fiery, confrontational Toledo council meeting last night, members ripped into the city administration and, sometimes, each other about withholding information.

Councilman Gene Zmuda found himself in the center of two of the most contentious disputes.

The first battle occurred when the administration introduced a last-minute ordinance to begin eminent domain proceedings against U.S. Reduction Co. It has a facility on North Toledo land targeted for the new Jeep plant, and the land must be cleared by August for construction to begin.

But one of council’s pet peeves this year has been these last-minute ordinances. Members say that the rushed items don’t give them time to make good decisions.

“It’s a major point in the relationship between council and the administration,” Mr. Zmuda said.

He initially convinced most council members. When council voted to allow the ordinance to be considered, only two council members – Mr. Zmuda and Rob Ludeman – voted no.

But that was enough to stop the ordinance. Council rules require nine “yes” votes for that procedure. Councilman Bob McCloskey was absent last night, and Councilman Peter Gerken, a Jeep employee, abstains on all votes involving his employer. That left only eight “yes” votes, and some angry, confused looks from council members.

Council President Peter Ujvagi gave the two naysayers a chance to change their mind, and paused in anticipation of a motion to reconsider. It didn’t happen.

That is, until the end of the meeting, more than an hour later. In the meantime, Mr. Zmuda had spoken to a city attorney and become convinced the U.S. Reduction ordinance was indeed an emergency. He moved to reconsider the previous vote; this time, all 10 members voted yes.

Just a few minutes before, Mr. Zmuda had been at the center of another dispute, this one over municipal power.

Council had decided not to act on an ordinance that would have set up a city power company to compete with Toledo Edison.

Then, Mr. Zmuda proposed his own last-minute piece of legislation – a resolution that would have acknowledged the city’s right to create a power company.

From the discussion that followed, it became clear that Mr. Zmuda had discussed the resolution with several council members before the meeting. That infuriated Mr. Gerken, who chairs council’s utilities committee.

“I take umbrage at that,” said Mr. Gerken, who has clashed with Mr. Zmuda on a variety of issues. “It would have been much more gentlemanly of you to speak to me about this resolution.”

It also angered first-term Councilman Louis Escobar, who accused his colleagues of keeping some members out of the loop.

“I don’t like bullying, no matter where it comes from,” he said. “There are certain people on council who seem to know a lot, and others who do not.”

Mr. Ujvagi appealed for calm and proposed that Mr. Zmuda’s resolution should be considered, but not acted upon. With only Mr. Escobar dissenting, council approved that course.

Other action:

* Marsha Serio, the city’s only female director, will have her own personal secretary, council decided. Earlier in the day, the five female members of council said they did not believe the matter was the result of sexism.

* Council voted unanimously to approve St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center’s request to build two pedestrian walkways over Cherry Street. The bridges will connect the hospital to its expanded outpatient center.

* Council postponed action on a proposal to convert the Toledo Edison steam plant downtown into an upscale apartment building.