Citizen group demands lawsuit to recoup Summit Street project funds

·4 min read

Jun. 10—Seven Toledoans submitted a formal taxpayer demand to Toledo's Law Director Dale Emch on Wednesday compelling him to file suit to recoup city funds spent to move Buckeye Broadband's underground equipment as part of the Summit Street reconstruction project.

It's a move allowable under Ohio Revised Code and Toledo City Charter. Terry Lodge, attorney for the plaintiffs, gave Mr. Emch until noon Friday to comply, or else he'll file a taxpayer lawsuit against Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and relevant city officers, contractors, and subcontractors.

VIEW FORMAL TAXPAYER DEMAND LETTER

"If you, the Mayor and relevant City administrators do not act to rescind the Supplemental Contract and recoup the misspent City funds, you will be subjecting Toledo's taxpayers to needless costs of litigation, when your respective duties to act otherwise under the Charter are plain," Mr. Lodge's letter states.

Taxpayers are required to first request a city attorney take action on a matter before they are permitted to file a taxpayer lawsuit, according to Toledo City Charter.

The citizen plaintiffs include former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, city council candidate Alfonso Narvaez, activists Mike Ferner and Julian Mack, Old West End resident Toni Moore, central city resident Harold Mosley, and West Toledo resident Harry Johnston.

The $10.55 million Summit Street reconstruction and water line replacement project is under way, and it recently received renewed attention after Toledo City Councilman Rob Ludeman revealed an FBI agent had contacted him and asked questions about the utility relocations related to construction.

The street is being rebuilt between Lafayette and Jackson streets following replacement of a water main between Washington Street and Jackson. Beautification efforts also are set to be complete ahead of the Solheim Cup, which is coming to Toledo in late August.

Project plans approved in May, 2020, show utilities impacted by the work include AT&T, Toledo Edison, Columbia Gas, Verizon, Buckeye Broadband, and communications infrastructure provider Zayo Group.

In a July 20, 2020, email, Mr. Emch wrote that the city took on the Summit Street project for aesthetic reasons, not because the accompanying infrastructure improvements were necessary. Because it's a beautification project, he reasoned, the impacted utilities do not have to pay to move their equipment.

Mr. Ludeman and Councilman Nick Komives have asked the Kapszukiewicz administration for a breakdown of how much each utility relocation cost and who paid for it, but they have yet to receive an answer. They told The Blade last month they were informed the city paid about $973,000 to relocate Buckeye Broadband's equipment. It's their understanding the other companies moved their equipment at their own expense.

"It's my clients' position that the appropriation and expenditure of any taxpayer funds for the relocation of Buckeye Broadband, which may so far total as much as $973,000, was and is unlawful and contrary to the City Charter and Toledo Municipal Code," Mr. Lodge wrote.

Block Communications, Inc., which owns Buckeye Broadband and The Blade, in a statement Tuesday said Toledo officials acknowledged that the city, not Buckeye Broadband, is responsible for the cost of relocating the company's fiber optic communications lines on Summit Street.

"Longstanding Ohio law and precedent support the conclusion that the city is the financially responsible party in this situation, notwithstanding any provisions of the Toledo Municipal Code. As recently as three weeks ago, the city administration again publicly reaffirmed that it had acted properly in covering these costs," the statement said. "But now it appears that after experiencing some political pressure, the administration is backpedaling. If the city decides to spend substantial legal fees in an effort to change the law of Ohio, Buckeye stands ready to vigorously defend its legal position."

Mr. Ludeman and Mr. Komives plan to introduce legislation at the June 15 city council meeting to recoup those costs and to strengthen the requirement for utilities to cover their costs for relocating equipment on future city infrastructure projects.

A statement issued Tuesday by city spokesman Ignazio Messina said the Kapszukiewicz administration "supports Councilman Ludeman's efforts and intends to partner with him in exploring any strategies — including litigation — that would help recover costs owed to the city of Toledo."

Check back for updates.

First Published June 10, 2021, 11:11am