Monday, October 27, 2008

North Canton Officials Ignore City's Charter & Voters

Prepared Comments Made to
October 27, 2008

The North Canton City Charter as well as city voters are getting the bum’s rush and the citizens of North Canton do not have to look very hard to find examples that the laws of the city only have meaning when it is convenient to the individuals in power.

Section 3.02 of the North Canton City Charter states: “The Director of Administration shall be a resident or establish residence in the municipality of North Canton within a reasonable time after appointment and shall remain a resident during tenure of office.”

Mr. Earl Wise took office as North Canton’s City Administrator in Mayor David Held’s first term as mayor. Mayor Held was sworn in for his first term as mayor on December 1, 2005. Throughout Mayor Held’s first two-year term as mayor, City Administrator Earl Wise failed to comply with the residency requirements of the North Canton City Charter.

As we all know, Mayor Held was elected for a second term as mayor in the 2007 general election and was sworn in for a second time on December 1, 2007. Mayor Held is now one year into his second two year term as mayor. City Administrator Earl Wise, in his mayoral appointed position, is also into the second year of his second term in the Held Administration and Mr. Wise continues to defy the mandate of the North Canton City Charter.

I am aware that the issue of residency requirements required by city charters in Ohio is being challenged and is now before the Ohio Supreme Court but is that a valid basis to ignore the law as it currently is written? Often laws are challenged but until they are overturned by a judicial body they are still valid laws. Mr. Wise, a licensed attorney and former Stark County prosecutor, should be well aware of that fact.

In the 2007 general election, city council sent to the voters of North Canton an opportunity to rescind the residency requirements outlined in section 3.02 of the North Canton City Charter. North Canton voters reaffirmed the residency requirements for the city administrator and rejected the proposed change by nearly two to one.

Isn’t three years a reasonable time after appointment to comply not only with the North Canton City Charter but also with the recent reaffirmation of that requirement by the voters of the city?

Do any office holders of the city recall their oath of office to support the laws of the City of North Canton? You are culpable as well for sitting idly by and saying nothing on this issue.

North Canton officials feel they can violate the city charter with impunity and ignore the wishes of the voters. Who cares what the voters decide? Apparently North Canton city officials do not care how the voters feel.

This past summer an initiative petition was circulated and signed by 880 North Canton voters to place an issue on the ballot. The proposed legislation would have allowed North Canton voters the opportunity to decide whether city tax dollars should continue to be used to fund the city’s CIC or whether these funds should be returned to city coffers to reduce projected deficits and defer cuts in city services.

The filed initiative petition needed 764 signatures for placement of the issue on the ballot. The Stark County Board of Elections (BOE) validated 847 signatures and certified that there were sufficient signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

After certification of the petition by the Stark County BOE, North Canton city officials apparently felt that the voters of North Canton did not deserve an opportunity to decide how or where their tax dollars should be spent and unilaterally elected to spend taxpayer funds to fight the taxpayer and prevented the issue from appearing on the ballot.

It appears that North Canton officials feel they can ignore and override the wishes of the voters. Who cares what the voters want? Apparently city officials do not care how the voters feel and have no desire to hear from the voters in the voting booth.

A few weeks ago, specifically at an August 25, 2008, council meeting, Mr. Glenn Saylor, a city resident spoke publicly about the legal fees incurred by the city to thwart placement of a ballot issue before the voters. The issue was an initiative, noted earlier, regarding use of taxpayer dollars to fund the city’s CIC.

During Council President Revoldt’s remarks regarding the expenditures for legal fees to fight placement of the issue on the ballot, City Finance Director, Alex Zumbar, interjected: “[we] will have for you, Mr. Saylor, a copy of the bill and he will announce it here publicly when it is available.” I can only presume that the “he” Mr. Zumbar was referring to was to Council President Revoldt.

I do not mean to speak for Mr. Saylor, but I have talked to him and Mr. Saylor has advised me that he has not heard anything, from any city official, regarding the amount of taxpayer funds that were expended for legal expenses to fight placement of the taxpayer initiative on the ballot.

Nor have I heard any announcement in this chamber, on the record, of the legal expenses incurred by the city. In the minutes of the above noted council meeting it was stated that the amount of the legal fees would be announced publicly. Council President Revoldt, I have not heard of any announcement by you or anyone else in this chamber on the promise to publicly announce the cost of the legal challenge to prevent placement of the legislation on the ballot.

It appears that North Canton city officials feel they are not accountable for expenditures of taxpayer funds that are spent unilaterally to fight the taxpayer. And, when confronted by concerned taxpayers in this forum make promises that they do not keep.

The City of North Canton is not only experiencing a financial crisis of monumental proportions, it is also experiencing a crisis of leadership by North Canton city officials.

Apparently city officials no longer feel they are accountable to the voters. They would rather just forget the charter and forget the voter.

Maybe it works for city officials but it does not work for democracy and the rule of law.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Subsidies For Arrowhead And Civic Center Burden City

Prepared Comments Made to
October 13, 2008

At last Monday night’s Committee of the Whole, Mayor Held commented at the end of the meeting on the lone bid to lease Arrowhead Golf Course that was presented by Finance Chairman Jon Snyder. Those comments appeared in an October 8, 2008, Beacon Journal article titled “North Canton council discusses golf proposal.” In the article, “Mayor David Held said the city’s goal has always been to preserve the course as a community asset and not spend money in the process.”

The reality is that the City of North Canton has spent money and lots of it to subsidize the debt service on the bonds used to finance the original purchase of the property. Quite frankly, it would be refreshing if the city would come clean and tell the taxpayers of North Canton the truth regarding the revenue shortage from the lease of the golf course and the funds being removed from the general fund to subsidize the debt service.

The truth is that the city has made four bond payments of $300,000 each in four of the five years it has owned the property. The bond payments total $1,200,000. Interest expense on the bonds over the five years the city has carried the debt on the property has totaled $289,922. The bond and interest payments paid by the city over the last five years total $1,489,922. Revenue from lease payments over this same period has totaled $568,500. As a result, the city’s ownership of Arrowhead in the five years it has owned the property has required a subsidy from the city’s general fund of $921,422.

Under the lone bid to lease Arrowhead for a second time, the city will receive $150,000 annually. Under this new lease, the city will now have to pay the property taxes which are nearly $50,000 annually. Under the new lease, the city will net approximately $100,000 a year after property taxes are paid. Under the new lease, the city will receive approximately $95,500 less in annual lease payments than under the previous lease with Mr. Larizza.

In the same Beacon article noted above, Mayor Held states, “Considering the economic circumstances over the past five years, I think we have come out pretty well.” Mayor Held, I believe taxpayers of the city would beg to differ with you on that point!

The debt service for Arrowhead will continue to require financial subsidies out of the city’s general fund to the tune of at least a quarter million dollars a year for three more years. After the last bond payment for Arrowhead is paid in 2011, North Canton taxpayers can look forward to infrastructure repairs that will require yet more subsidies.

Why not acknowledge that the city is subsidizing debt service for Arrowhead?

In spite of the fact that the Repository strongly encouraged North Canton’s purchase of Arrowhead property five years ago, it would be nice if the Repository would inform its readers that North Canton tax dollars are subsidizing debt service on the purchase of Arrowhead while the city faces budget deficits.

I am sure Repository readers will forgive the Repository for urging North Canton’s purchase of Arrowhead in spite of the financial burden it has placed on the city.

The North Canton Civic Center is another financial burden requiring subsidies by taxpayers. Last year, expenses for the Civic Center outpaced revenues by $100,136. From 2001 through September of this year, North Canton taxpayers have had to subsidize operations at the Civic Center to the tune of $650,604.

The subsidies for the Civic Center for the last eight years and the subsidies for debt service at Arrowhead over the last five years combined total $1,572,026. Mayor Held, President Revoldt, Finance Chairman Snyder, I am sure you would agree these economic circumstances are not good whether the city faces budget deficits or not.

Why is council acknowledging the financial subsidies required to support the Civic Center but not acknowledging the financial subsidies required to support Arrowhead?

It was reported in council last week that only twenty-seven residents booked events at the Civic Center last year. This represents 13 percent of the total events booked for 2007.

Why are North Canton taxpayers subsidizing a facility that is used predominantly by non-residents which results in a financial loss for city residents?

A brief history of the Civic Center, framed on the wall at the Civic Center states “…this property was acquired through civic donations and presented to the city to provide the citizens of North Canton Community with a facility to socialize, conduct business and expand the arts.” This leads to the following question.

Why aren’t there discounted rates at the North Canton Civic Center for citizens of North Canton?

Can the city return the use of the Civic Center to North Canton citizens as was originally intended and still reduce the subsidies required to operate the center? I hope that can be accomplished.

These are decisions that should have been addressed years ago.

Mayor Held, I believe the city could have fared much better as you claimed in your statement if these subsidies and deficits had been managed in a timely manner.

If there had been responsible financial management in the city regarding spending, one would be able to accurately say the city has fared pretty well as you stated in your comments to the press. Unfortunately, that has not been the case for North Canton.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton