Saturday, January 15, 2005

Council Obligated To Investigate Allegations of Wrongdoing By Mayor Rice

Prepared Comments Made To
March 8, 2004

I feel compelled to address the comments that were made in last weeks Council of the Whole meeting by two members of this body regarding their reluctance to move ahead with an investigation of Mayor Tom Rice.

I would like to point out that it is your duty, first and foremost, to insure that the conduct of city business is handled in an open and trustworthy fashion. When there are allegations that jeopardize the public’s trust in the process of government, it is imperative that steps be taken in an expeditious and timely manner to restore the public’s trust in their government and their elected officials.

The comments in the press from Mayor Tom Rice that the allegations I have made are politically motivated are simply untrue. If my intentions were politically motivated, I would have acted before the election, not after the election.

If you want to know what a politically motivated attack on a public official looks like, just go back to October of 2002 when hearsay evidence was presented to this body. Some council members, who are still sitting on this council today, with no hesitation, voted to immediately initiate a full-blown investigation. It was a witch hunt for any possible misconduct that could be found and none was found.

Allegations of wrongdoing have been made against Mayor Tom Rice and presented to this body. This is not a witch hunt to find any possible misconduct. Specific allegations have been presented to this body, in writing, with evidence to back up the allegations.

Mr. Foltz, in my last meeting as a member of this council on November 24, 2003, you said and I quote, “Chuck, we didn’t see eye to eye in a lot of issues, but I respect your research, your compassion towards your beliefs…” Mr. Foltz, if you meant what you said, I ask that you to vote with this body to move ahead with an investigation. I ask that you put your duty as a city councilman ahead of any personal friendship that you may have with Mayor Tom Rice. Mr. Lane, I ask that you do your duty as well.

Every member of this council has taken an oath “…to support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Ohio, and the Ordinances and Resolutions of the City of North Canton, and to faithfully, honestly, and impartially, discharge the duties of the Office of Council Member of the City of North Canton, Ohio…”

Any attempt to thwart a fair and impartial investigation by this body would constitute a cover-up and undermine the public’s trust in North Canton City Government.

Chuck Osborne
307 Fairview Street, SE
North Canton, Ohio

Mayor Tom Rice Provides No Leadership or Accountability

Prepared Comments Made To
April 12, 2004

Last week’s council meeting brought to mind something I saw many years ago in a visit to the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. In one of the exhibits at the library was a display of the desk used by former President Truman in the Oval Office, and among the items placed on the desk was a plaque with the inscription, “The Buck Stops Here!”

Mayor Rice, I would like to ask you, “Where does the buck stop in North Canton?” It appears that no one is guiding this city or is ultimately held responsible for its leadership.

Week after week you refuse to answer questions in this chamber, you refuse to take a stand on issues vital to the fiscal health of this city, and you provide no oversight or leadership to the citizens of North Canton.

I can present many examples but in this instance I am referring to the recent discussions on sewer rates. They were discussed in this chamber earlier this year and again last week on April 5, 2004. I did not hear as much as a peep from you on this issue.

I use the term “discussions on sewer rates” very loosely as they were simply reports from the Finance Director that the sewer rates have not been adjusted since 1997 and since that time, North Canton has absorbed three rate increases from the Metropolitan Sewer district.

The Finance Director stated that North Canton has burned through an $800,000 credit from the MSD that existed in that sewer fund just a few years ago, and the city is now subsidizing sewer fees out of the general fund.

This has resulted in the completion of fewer and fewer sewer projects over the last few years. Just two months ago, on February 2, 2004, Finance Director Herr told this council that this city will not be able to fund any sewer projects next year unless sewer fees are increased.

Mayor Rice, why does this not alarm you? Why is there no leadership from the Mayor of North Canton?

As for anyone on council, when you give citizens of North Canton a break on fees for city services, you are actually doing them a disservice. Maintaining fees at an artificially low rate simply forces future councils and residents to play catch-up.

When you fail to charge a fiscally prudent fee for city services, you are actually forgoing needed infrastructure improvements that are needed to maintain city services and the vitality and health of the city.

Just ask the business owners on North Main Street who found sewage in their businesses, the city residents throughout the city who were flooded recently, or the residents on Bel Air Avenue long overdue for new waterlines. Many of these problems would have been corrected years ago had the proper revenues for services rendered been collected in a timely fashion.

“Who is minding the store?” Who should be looking at the big picture and heading off problems that are easily defined through simple long-range planning?

Mayor Rice, where are you on this sewer issue? Why aren’t you taking a stand on a fee structure so much-needed infrastructure improvements can be funded properly?

As the Chief Executive Officer of this city, how can you even begin to think of hiring an economic development director for this city when you fail to provide needed revenues for infrastructure improvements? A department within the city devoted entirely to economic development cannot bring opportunities to a city that has inadequate infrastructure and leadership.

Mayor Rice, as the Mayor of the City of North Canton, I think that you need to follow the example of former President Harry S. Truman.

As Mayor, the responsibility is yours, Mr. Rice. You cannot blame City Council or the City Administrator. This is your watch and “The buck stops with you.”

Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Water Distribution Analysis Cites Poor Fire Protection throughout City

Prepared Comments Made To
November 8, 2004

Last week, Mayor Tom Rice took issue with proposed council legislation to fund the engineering of new water lines for Bonnett Street. Mr. Rice, I do not understand why you would oppose the much needed upgrade of sub-standard water lines for residents in the City of North Canton.

Yes, Councilperson Kiesling does live on Bonnett Street but so do many other families.

Presently, Bonnett Street is served by 6-inch water lines that were installed in 1944. Why would you oppose the replacement of residential water lines that are sixty years old?

Mr. Rice, last week you stated your concern that old deteriorated water lines, specifically 4-inch water lines, do not allow for adequate fire protection. You made reference to a water distribution analysis that was recently completed for the city.

This is the Water Distribution Analysis completed for North Canton in May, 2003, by Finkbeiner, Pettis & Stout, Inc.

I would like to cite excerpts from this study that begins on page Vll-2 and continues into page Vll-3:
“Poor fire protection exists throughout the city, specifically in the older areas with smaller diameter mains. Tuberculation effectively decreases the working diameter of these mains over time, thus further reducing the fire flow capacities in these mains. As stated previously, 4-inch diameter and smaller mains are not designed for fire protection. Also, 6-inch diameter mains with long unreinforced lengths are marginal at providing adequate protection. Aging of these 6-inch diameter mains (tuberculation over time) can easily reduce the effective diameter to 4-inch or less, further reducing their fire flow capacities.”

Continuing, the report states,
“Several 6-inch diameter mains have also been identified as having poor fire protection. These mains are listed in Table 8 as well.” I would like to point out to you Mr. Rice that Bonnett Street is listed in this table. Table 8 is titled Recommended Water System Improvements.

Mr. Rice, last week you also stated your concern that old deteriorated water lines, specifically 4-inch water lines, adversely impact the overall efficiency of the water distribution system. Again, I would like to cite excerpts from the same water distribution study. This appears on page V-4 under the heading System Headloss:

“Headloss within the system will restrict the amount of flow that a water main can carry. Headloss gradient greater than three or four feet per 1,000 feet of pipe is considered high and should be addressed by the city. During extreme conditions such as fire flows, these mains greatly reduce the amount of flow available in the area and results in lower pressures. Reasons for high headloss gradients include age, pipe material and diameter, lack of reinforcement, and buildup of solids (tuberculation) on the inside of the water main due to water instability. Replacing 4-inch and 6-inch diameter water mains with 8-inch diameter mains would allow a systematic approach to increasing fire flows to a more acceptable level.”

Clearly, the aged 6-inch water line on Bonnett Street does not provide adequate fire protection to the residents living on Bonnett Street and it adversely impacts the North Canton Water Distribution System. Mr. Rice, this situation should be of great concern to you, but given your objections last week, it appears you are not concerned.

Bonnett Street residents also live with inferior water day after day for washing, bathing and drinking. That is, if they choose to drink it.

Mr. Rice, your pretense in raising objections to the engineering of Bonnett Street for new water lines is quite transparent. It is simply an attempt to get back at Councilperson Keisling, pure and simple.

I might also add Mayor Rice that you had no problem signing legislation last year
(114-03) for engineering Bel Air even though Bel Air did not appear in the table of recommended water system improvements done by Finkbeiner, Pettis & Stout, Inc.

Bel Air also received new sanitary and storm sewer, curb and gutter, and new street pavement. As we all know, Bel Air is in Ward One and its Ward Councilperson is Mr. Doug Foltz. Mayor Rice, do certain council members receive favor favorable treatment from you if they remain in your good graces? It appears that is the case!

I would like to propose that the City of North Canton place a moratorium on any further street improvements and focus on the replacement of all inferior water lines. The policy of totaling rebuilding sanitary and storm sewer, curb and gutter and pavement of new streets will force many residents to continue to endure inferior quality water as well as forego adequate fire protection for years to come.

Is this any way to promote the City of North Canton? Do you think the residents that have endured these inferior water systems make good ambassadors for the city? I do not think so and you know they don’t as well.

I continue to hear the argument that we do not want to tear up the city streets twice. No one on this council or from the administration gave it a second thought when you rushed to tear up streets to put in the 24-inch water main to connect East Maple Street Well Field to the Water Treatment Plant.

That water line zig zags all through the city. When completed and repaved, except for the different color paving, no one gives it a thought that the street was dug up for a water line. If it was not a problem to put in the 24-inch water main, why is it a problem to put in water lines on residential streets that are in desperate need of new water lines?

Why are residents destined to live like second-class citizens because their council and their mayor would rather pave new streets than provide clean drinking water and adequate fire protection?

But improvements to the city’s water infrastructure cannot happen if rates are not set fairly and properly. Did you ever think that if this council had set the proper water rates last year and again earlier this year that many of these streets would not still be waiting for funding for needed funding for water lines?

And Mayor Rice, where is your leadership? Months have gone by without a peep from you and now that council has ended their scrutiny of you, the best you can offer is your foul language and vengeance on council members of your choosing.

Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Lagging Water & Sewer Rates Impact Economic Development

Prepared Comments Made To
February 9, 2004

The recent discussions regarding economic development in North Canton and who will head the city’s economic development efforts has been a very hot topic over the last few months.

One of the most important reasons that a municipality works to foster economic growth is to create a revenue stream from the income taxes and property taxes that businesses generate that are used to support city services.

But, long before any efforts are made toward economic development, a municipality should be making the most of its existing revenue collections and this is not being done in North Canton.

Two items were discussed last week that have me wondering if anybody is minding the store here in North Canton. I am talking about the discussions regarding sewer rates and water rates.

Sewer rates in this community have not been adjusted since 1997 in spite of the fact that the county has raised their rates charged to North Canton three times in that span of time ( 4.03% in 2000, 8.74% the next year in 2001 and a 11.77% increase just recently approved by the Stark County Commissioners).

The statement last Monday night by the Director of Finance that this city has had to forgo sewer projects this year because there are no funds to pay for these projects is about the saddest thing I have ever heard. And I am sure even more disheartening to the families who experienced flooding and sewer backups last year. I am estimating that North Canton has missed out on close to $500,000 on uncollected revenue, had sewer rates kept pace with what the MSD is charging the City of North Canton. These are vitally needed funds needed for sewer infrastructure improvements.

Who is in charge of leading this city? Mayor Rice, I think the chain of command leads to you but I am sure you will use the excuse you have used in the past and say it is a function of council. Another missed opportunity for North Canton.

Water rates were another issue that was discussed last week. I was so amused last week when Ward One Councilman, Mr. Foltz, said he might support a water rate increase if the increase was kept to either a nickel or a dime. I might point out to you Mr. Foltz that council unanimously voted to give each of the city’s labor unions a 3.8 percent pay increase recently and that if you adjust the city’s water rates at the same rate of 3.8 percent, that the increase in water rates would be nearly eleven cents.

Has anyone ever calculated the revenue that was lost by this city over the sixteen years that water rates remained unchanged (1984 – 2000)? If anybody ever wondered why the city had to borrow the entire $11 million dollars for the upgrade and expansion of the city’s water treatment plant, they now know that undercharging for city services did not benefit the citizens of North Canton in the long run. Water and sewer rates must be set so that North Canton is not always fiscally, playing catch-up. This is what it has been doing for a long time.

Better setting of rates for city services will allow the city to forgo the need to drain funds from either the general fund or the rainy day fund and with some future planning, allow North Canton to move closer to plans for a new safety center.

Getting back to economic development, that I mentioned earlier, I would just like to say that given the background of North Canton’s new City Administrator, I believe that the City Administrator should also handle the role of the city’s Economic Development Director. Given that Mr. Miller has headed up a city of 80,000 plus and now finds himself running a city that is a quarter of that size, I believe he is more than capable of handling that job as well.

And finally, I have to say that I am disappointed that council’s efforts to get answers from Mayor Rice have continued to be brushed aside. With the unanimous vote by council last week to confirm Mr. Miller, it appears that Mayor Rice will not be accountable for his actions that have been described by council members Kiesling, Peters and Lindower in the press as “reckless and impulsive.”

Mr. Rice, I would like an answer to Mr. Peter’s question that he has asked twice in this council. “What direction were we headed for before and what direction are you proposing now?”

Suspension of the Hearings for the Removal of Mayor Tom Rice

Prepared Comments Made To
October 11, 2004

City Council’s decision at last Monday’s Council of the Whole meeting to permanently suspend the hearings regarding the possible removal of Mayor Tom Rice has shown me that although we are a community governed and protected by laws, those laws and the protections they provide us are worth little more than the paper they are printed on when individuals fail to live by those laws.

I am referring to you Tom Rice, the individual charged with violating the public’s trust and the charter of the City of North Canton as well as to the members of this City Council who have failed to uphold the charter they have sworn to protect.

Tom Rice, you have been investigated on three occasions in the last two years and the conclusion of each investigation rings a recurring theme as Frank Forchione stated: “Rice’s conduct demonstrates a conflict of interest.”

Members of this city council, I am referring to you as well. You, as elected officials are not protecting the citizens of this community from individual such as Tom Rice.

Council, you were bullied, and contrary to your comments that you did not want to continue to put the city through the ordeal of continuing the hearings, the fact is you were really protecting your own personal interests.

I am aware that three of you, Mrs. Kiesling, Mr. Sarbach and Mr. Snyder had already suffered a personal financial burden regarding subpoenas that were served on each of you a few months ago by the mayor’s attorney relating to a parody of a campaign letter circulated earlier this year. I am also aware that there was the possibility of further legal entanglements for you regarding that issue.

I believe that some people on this council think that they can reduce their personal exposure to further legal action from Tom Rice by suspending the hearings. Something of a quid pro quo you might say.

This council was intimidated with the threat of legal action for themselves and you, as a group, gave in to a bully to save yourselves. Gutless and spineless on your part. And where do you think this leaves you now as councilpersons. At the mercy of Tom Rice!

Tom Rice, you are the bully!

You have hidden behind a high-priced attorney because you cannot explain your actions regarding any of the charges made against you. Moreover, you simply refuse to be accountable.

And since you could not and would not address the charges, you balked at the process that is clearly spelled out in the city charter. All attorneys know that if you cannot argue the facts of the case, you attack the process. And that is certainly what you did.

Months of pleadings, first before the court of appeals and then the common pleas court, and you could not prevail with your arguments in the courts. These legal actions on your part resulted in increased expenses to the City of North Canton

And again, all attorneys know that if you cannot dispute the facts of the allegations and you cannot dispute the process being used to air those facts, then what is left but to disparage and discredit the witnesses to those facts. And that is exactly what you did until you brought the process to its knees.

Tom Rice, you made a mockery of this city, the city charter and the public hearings. The hearings are that, simple hearings mandated in the city charter to allow a public official to explain his actions. And you chose not to explain your actions.

Mr. Rice, I truly hope that you made a videotape of the public hearing, because those videos would make excellent training tapes for the Johnnie Cochran School of Law.

Mr. Rice, David Held was your selection for city administrator. Mr. Held had no previous experience but that was your best pick to run the City of North Canton. Maybe with a little seasoning and professional guidance, he could have grown into the job.

But Mr. Held’s testimony made it clear that you did not provide professional guidance. What you did provide was ample amounts of intimidation and fear not only to your hand-picked city administrator but to city employees as well.

Your threats were also documented in Forchione’s report released earlier this year. (quote) “This phrase ‘tell the employees that they work at the pleasure of the Mayor’ appears to be a common threat in the Rice Administration. Several Department Heads (who asked not to be named for fear of their job) note that this was raised often by Held and Rice when they provided opposing opinions to Rice’s position (unquote)”.

The newspaper coverage of the allegations against Tom Rice and of Rice’s efforts to thwart public hearings have been covered by two newspapers, the Beacon Journal with a Sunday circulation in excess of 185,000 and the Repository with a Sunday circulation slightly over 90,000.

Each newspaper has had access to the detailed allegations that I provided the Stark County Prosecutor and each paper has reported on the events leading up to the public hearings and yet the Repository Editorial Board has not expressed the slightest bit of outrage over the actions of Mayor Tom Rice. The Repository has written ten editorials and the Beacon Journal has written two editorials.

Do Summit County and the City of Akron expect a much higher level of ethical conduct from its elected officials than what is expected here in Stark County or does the Repository Editorial Board have a vested interest given their past endorsement of Tom Rice in the fall 2003 election?

In a May 18, 2004, Beacon Journal editorial titled “Public and Private,” the Beacon Journal Editorial Board begins by saying (quote) “North Canton Mayor Tom Rice should find little comfort that an investigation into his conduct of city business did not uncover any criminal activity. The investigation and report by Frank Forchione, the Canton city prosecutor, was hardly complimentary, suggesting at best that Rice has displayed a cavalier attitude toward mixing his personal affairs and public actions (unquote)”. The editorial continues on stating (quote) “More troubling, this is the second time around that Forchione has raised ethical concerns about Rice’s conduct (unquote).”

On September 26, 2004, the Beacon Journal editorial board ran their second editorial titled “Nasty in North Canton” and suggested that (quote)“…the city is not served by Rice’s continuation in office without public acknowledgement of his ethical blindness. The best course would be for Rice, for once, to put the city’s interest ahead of his own and step aside (unquote)”.

Tom Rice, you do not have the moral fiber to fill the shoes of mayor and you should indeed step aside!

If this council is going to comply with its own charter and deal with ethical violations of Tom Rice that continue to mount, seemingly at the “pleasure of this mayor,” why is it that an admonishment as recommended by The Ohio Ethics Commission over a year ago and a public reprimand as suggested by the Stark County Prosecutor earlier this year were not forthcoming?

And Mr. Snyder, I do not care to hear a recital that this council cannot reprimand the mayor. If you are so inclined, you can accomplish that in some manner. If needed, a discussion with the Stark County Prosecutor can guide you.

Finally, there was an editorial in yesterday’s Repository regarding the public hearing in North Canton and it was titled “What did we learn?”

I think what I learned from all this is that the City of North Canton has a mayor by the name of Tom Rice who has repeatedly violated the public’s trust and when discovered for the man that he is will continue to unapologetically put his interests ahead of the public whom he promised to serve.

Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton