Sunday, January 02, 2000

Merely latest battle in Lobbyist Wars


The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There isn't about to be a truce in the Lobbyist Wars, despite an investigative report issued last week that tried to resolve bitter disputes about a lucrative state radio contract.

        At the center of the battle over the $271.9 million Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) are Columbus lobbyists Dennis Wojtankowski and Neil Clark, fierce rivals who represented competing firms angling for the largest contract in state history.

        The state awarded the no-bid contract to TRW Inc. of suburban Cleveland, represented by Mr. Wojtankowski's Success Group, after disqualifying the Swedish firm Ericsson, which Mr. Clark's NSC Consulting represented.

        Two other influential Statehouse types were thrown into a probe launched by Inspector General Thomas Charles: Curt Steiner, chief of staff for former Gov. George Voinovich, and his wife, Jan Allen, both of whom work with Mr. Wojtankowski.

        The Wojtankowski/Steiner/Allen crew won this round. Mr. Charles dismissed allegations that included favoritism, bribery and contract steering, many of which came from Mr. Clark.

        Before the report came out, allies of Mr. Steiner accused Mr. Clark of using the inspector general to carry out a vendetta against his rivals. But Mr. Charles doesn't think he was used.

        “We try our hardest to satisfy people who have legitimate allegations,” Mr. Charles said. “Due to the size of the MARCS contract and the controversial nature of how the contract was awarded, oversight was needed from the beginning.”

        Mr. Clark agreed. “I'm glad to see these guys have been vindicated,” he said. “But there needs to be a body that investigates allegations and rumors. It's the inspector general's job to ferret out fact from fiction.”

        You're too late if you're looking for that gubernatorially approved method to clear stale odors left over from Y2K celebrations.

        Among the year's accomplishments for Hope Taft, Ohio's first lady, was making 150 potpourri sachets from flowers at the Governor's Residence in suburban Columbus.

        The supply of “Scent of Hope” sachets sold out quickly at the Statehouse gift shop.

        “I think we've got a new best seller here,” Mr. Taft joked. “I'm going to have to get Hope working now for next year.”

        Butler County is one of five counties in line for grants to fund drug treatment programs.

        Known as Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime, or TASC, the program gives nonviolent drug offenders a chance to escape jail time if they agree to intensive treatment. Butler County's program is getting $290,545.

        Offenders directed into the program generally go first through a drug court, which requires frequent court visits, drug treatment and regular urine checks.

        A study funded by the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services found that DUI offenders in a TASC program had a 33 percent lower re-arrest rate than others in a control group that received treatment but not TASC case-management.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.


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