Thinking split on Medlin role; Conflict feared if port chairman also is development chief

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Several local officials and businessmen seem to have no problem with G. Ray Medlin, Jr., being chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board and Toledo’s new development director.

“He’s bright, articulate, and high batteried,” said port board member George Ballas. “There won’t be any conflicts.”

But at least one Toledo councilman wants Mr. Medlin to have one job or the other – but not both.

“I just don’t see how that could not be a conflict,” Councilman C. Allan McConnell said yesterday. “I would just want to avoid the appearance of impropriety. I think if he takes the position with the city, he should resign from the port board.”

And the Ohio Ethics Commission has concerns that it could be a violation of state conflict of interest rules if he had both jobs.

Mr. Medlin, port board chairman, is under consideration for the Toledo development job. He is the executive director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Health & Safety Fund.

That job is based in Las Vegas, and Mr. Medlin has said in the past he is looking for new employment that would not require him to be out of town as often.

Mr. Medlin, 51, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

He has had no paid experience in economic development, having spent the last 18 years working for a variety of union organizations in Toledo, Washington, and Las Vegas. But he has served on several area boards, and Mr. Finkbeiner said Mr. Medlin’s personal skills outweigh that lack of experience.

“Ray is a leader, first and foremost,” the mayor said. “He is one of the best, and has been for 10 years. He’s a big picture guy, a vision guy, a guy who likes big challenges.”

If he is hired by the city, his substantial role in the region’s economic development would grow.

In 1989, the port authority became, by law, the region’s lead economic development agency. Five years later, the port board created the Regional Growth Partnership to take over the job. Mr. Medlin was on the growth partnership board first in 1994, but left in 1997.

But many of the growth partnership’s projects still require the work of the port board, such as the issuance of bonds for construction projects. Some, like Mr. McConnell, who soon will leave council to take a seat on the Toledo Municipal Court bench, expressed concern that Mr. Medlin’s two jobs could cause conflicts of interest on some projects, like a new factory that could be located in Toledo or in a neighboring suburb.

At-large Councilman Gene Zmuda said he hopes “the mayor would make sure there weren’t any legal improprieties, given [Mr. Medlin’s] position as chairman of the port board. It is a question that needs to be answered. You cannot ignore the issue.”

“I think it’s an issue that he’s going to have to answer, and describe how he’ll deal with that situation,” said Bill Bostleman, president of The Bostleman Corp., a Maumee-based development and construction firm.

David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, cautioned that he did not know the full details of Mr. Medlin’s case. But he said that “generally, there is a conflict under law that exists when you have a public official in one position and then in a second position with a body that contracts with a public agency.”

In other words, there may be a conflict because the city does business with the port authority, and Mr. Medlin “would be on both sides of the contract,” he said.

But he said that a potential conflict might be headed off – again, generally speaking – if the person in question were a formal representative of one body to the other. If Mr. Medlin was appointed by the city to the port board, a conflict might be avoided.

Meanwhile, Mr. Finkbeiner said he is down to two finalists for the job. Deborah Younger, named last week to be the city’s new neighborhood director, has been eliminated from consideration.

The only candidate left to challenge Mr. Medlin is Steven Rockwell, the executive director of the Federal Lands Reuse Authority of Bucks County in Warminster, Pa. Mr. Rockwell has led the redevelopment of a shuttered Navy base there into a technology center. The mayor said that Mr. Rockwell is under consideration for subordinate jobs in the city’s development department.

Mr. Medlin was appointed by the Lucas County commissioners in 1992, and reappointed by the county in 1996. The county names six members to the board, as does the city of Toledo. A 13th member is a joint appointment.

Mr. Freel said that he has spoken with city and port officials in the last week about Mr. Medlin’s case, but said that the Ethics Commission has not been asked for a formal opinion.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that, if a conflict between Mr. Medlin’s two positions ever arose, the mayor would simply ask him to abstain from voting on the issue.

But most port board members said they trust Mr. Medlin not to do anything underhanded.

“He comes in the front door, he puts his cards on the table, and he doesn’t have any hidden agendas,” said Mr. Ballas, who is a member of the growth partnership board.

“On its face, it really does appear to create some difficulties,” said port board member Doni Miller. “But there are mitigating factors. It’s a very strong board at the port, and they’re not going to allow any action that’s unduly influenced by outside forces.”

“I don’t see any problem at all,” said J. Patrick Nicholson, the port board’s vice chairman. “Quite frankly, I’d be delighted to just have him working here in Toledo, because sometimes it’s hard to reach him when he’s traveling all around the country.”

“I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said port board member Mark Zyndorf, who is on the growth partnership’s board. “The reality is that port board members don’t have a daily handle on what the [growth partnership] is doing, so I don’t think it would be a conflict.”

Mr. Zyndorf said that if Mr. Medlin was still a member of the growth partnership board, “that would be a very different story.”

Port board member Opie Rollison said that the separation between the growth partnership and the port authority means there is no conflict between Mr. Medlin’s two jobs. “The port [authority] is a funding mechanism for the [growth] partnership, but we do not have direct control over the [growth partnership] or who they do business with,” he said.

“I would be more concerned if [growth partnership President and Chief Executive Officer] Don Jakeway was taking over the city job,” said Jerry Hayes, the acting director of the Defiance County economic development office. “I wouldn’t have any opposition to Ray taking the job.”

Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners, said she is not sure if having the two jobs would be an ethics violation. She said that the county would check with Prosecutor Julia Bates to see if the hiring would be allowed, and said the Ohio Ethics Commission should be asked for a written opinion on the matter.

Ms. Isenberg said she does not know what development abilities Mr. Medlin has.

“Ray has a very dynamic personality, and I think that in any job he would take, he would do well,” Ms. Isenberg said. “But in the economic development area, I don’t know what his skills are.”

She said Mr. Medlin’s strength is his ability “to bring lots of people to the table, to work with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and to come to some sort of a consensus.”

Ms. Isenberg said she spoke to Mr. Medlin yesterday and told him: “Remember, you have a broader constituency than the city of Toledo on the port board, and I hope you remember that during your deliberations.”

Mr. Medlin’s term on the port board expires in July. Ms. Isenberg said being employed by the city would not hurt Mr. Medlin’s chance for reappointment.

Mr. Bostleman said he does not think Mr. Medlin’s labor background would be a hindrance in attracting businesses to the area.

Mr. Bostleman said the opposite might be true: that Mr. Medlin could help improve the image, held by some, that Toledo’s unions can be difficult to work with.

“He understands management and business well enough that he would be able to be a good go-between to really help sort those issues out in the minds of businessmen,” Mr. Bostleman said. “He would be a good person to have out front on those issues.”

Under the city charter, council would have to ratify Mr. Medlin’s appointment as permanent director of economic development. However, the mayor could name Mr. Medlin acting director without the consent of council, a position he could hold for up to a year.

Council would have to grant Mr. Medlin a residency waiver if he is hired. All city employees without waivers must live within the city limits. Mr. Medlin lives in Washington Township.

Blade staff writers Vanessa Gezari and Fritz Wenzel contributed to this report.