Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Public Health Order against North Canton Distressful & Costly to Taxpayers

Prepared Comments Made to
December 12, 2011

For the second time in the last ten years, the City of North Canton finds itself facing a governmental order to clean up a dump site where, for years, the city was open dumping solid waste in violation of state law. North Canton taxpayers will certainly be getting a lump of coal in their stocking this Christmas as the cleanup will require the expenditure of city funds and needlessly place added stress on the city’s budget.

In 2002, North Canton was mandated to clean up its own Dressler well field as a result of dumping practices that dated back to the 1980s. That cleanup cost taxpayers approximately $500,000.

Mayor Held, you were the City Administrator at that time and as administrator you oversaw the cleanup for the city. One would think that after overseeing the expenditure of approximately one half million dollars of public funds to abate illegal dumping practices that that experience would make an indelible impression and that thereafter you would make an extra effort to ensure the proper disposal of city waste material.

Apparently, no lessons were learned as open dumping of solid waste continued during and after the cleanup of the Dressler well field site. This appears to be the case as in a December 10, 2009, Repository report titled, “Cleaning up a mess in North Canton” it is stated “…City administrators say the two dump sites has been used for more than five years, while one former employee indicates the site has been used since the 1990s.”

The discovery of the illegal dumping of street sweepings began with a complaint from the Ohio EPA to the Stark County Health Department on October 6,2009. The original complaint cited two dump sites, one on a farm on South Arlington and a second site north of Portage Avenue on Freedom Avenue known as the Mathie property.

I have been told by city officials that the dump site on South Arlington has been cleaned up and that it was done in-house with city employees and city equipment. Mysteriously, no one in the city can provide to me information as to when and at what cost?

I would like to see documentation as to the man hours expended, the equipment used, and the cost to dispose of the solid waste at a licensed disposal facility.

I would also like to know why City Council has not asked for any accounting of the cost of cleanup of the South Arlington site.

The Mathie dump site is adjacent to North Canton’s water treatment plant as well as to a city well field. It also lies within the Zimber Ditch flood zone.

Two years have passed since state and county regulatory agencies have weighed in on the violations of state law regarding the illegal disposal of solid waste by the City. The Mathie property dump site was also identified as a wetland.

Fortunately for North Canton, the property was deemed not to be a “regulated” wetland as dumping apparently began before creation of the Clean Water Act in 1972. This ruling by the Army Corp of Engineers spares North Canton the cost of wetlands mitigation.

Consequently, North Canton will only be required to remove the street sweepings that were open dumped on the Mathie property. This is detailed in a November 16, 2011, “Public Health Order” from the Stark County Health Commissioner William Franks to City Administrator Michael Grimes requiring the City of North Canton to remove solid waste that was dumped in violation of state law.

The cost of the cleanup is on everyone’s mind but as of last Friday, Administrator Grimes would not provide any estimate to me of the cost.

In a November 25, 2009, interview published in the Stark County Political Report (SCPR) titled, “Clean Up of Street Sweeper Backfill Could Cost $100,000 Plus How Much in EPA Fines?” Mayor Held tells the Report that “…the cost of remediating could be $100,000….”

Mayor Held, I would like to know if your estimate of the cost of a cleanup that you gave to the SCPR two years ago is accurate.

A November 23, 2009, Repository report titled, “North Canton council won’t discuss dumping probe” stated, “City officials said they didn’t know that dumping street sweepings at the site would be a violation.”

Mayor Held, having formerly overseen the cleanup of a previous dump site here in North Canton as City Administrator as well as having held the position of Director of the Joint Solid Waste District for Stark, Tuscarawas and Wayne Counties since July of 2004, I am flabbergasted as to your professed ignorance regarding the disposal of solid waste.

In the November 23, 2009, minutes of City Council, former Council President Daryl Revoldt states, “…in addition to funding remediation, this council may consider other appropriate actions it deems necessary to satisfactorily resolve this matter and assure that a similar situation does not reoccur.”

I would like to know if this council is prepared to finally speak up publicly on what will obviously be a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds to comply with the Health Department’s “Public Health Order.”

Is this council prepared to speak to the failure of leadership by Mayor Held on this matter?

What line items on the budget will go unfunded to find the dollars needed to accomplish the remediation of the dump site?

Among the reasons the Stark County Health Department cites for its decision to issue a “Public Health Order” against the City are:

1) Street sweepings are defined as solid waste in O. R. C. and O. A. C.
2) North Canton City personnel attended training regarding street sweepings,
and should have been aware that sweepings needed to be disposed of in a
licensed solid waste facility.
3) The City of North Canton had previously been ordered to clean up street
sweepings that were open dumped in the late 1990s.
4) The waste is in the proximity of one of North Canton’s municipal water
supply wells.

The repeated failure by city officials to comply with state laws regarding the disposal of city wastes and the concomitant financial costs that the taxpayers of North Canton are forced to bear are an embarrassment to the community and distressful to residents. Furthermore, it raises deep concern about the caliber of leadership in North Canton.

Given that the Health Department’s “Public Health Order” against the City is nearly a month old, and the fact that citizens deserve to know the financial impact that the remediation will entail, and in the interest of transparency and accountability I ask that the full details regarding this issue be made available to the public without further delay.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne

Monday, November 28, 2011

North Canton Mayor’s Appointment of Permits Superintendent Is a Plan of Deception

Prepared Comments Made to
November 28, 2011

Since mid-November I have followed Mayor Held’s quest to staff an assistant administrator position at City Hall and I am concerned that City Council is either complacent in letting the Mayor staff that position or is blind to the Mayor’s plan of deception to accomplish that end.

Two months ago, on September 19, this council failed to act on the Mayor’s request for an assistant administrator, and yet without a doubt, Mayor Held is working his way to getting that request fulfilled with what I believe to be a plan of deception.

Mayor Held, your statements in the press over the last two months are contradictory and call into question the course of events transpiring behind the walls of City Hall.

In a Repository report on September 19, 2011, titled “North Canton considers assistant administrator post” you stated you will keep Eric Bowles tasked with the added duties of permits and inspection, saying “With Bowles doing double-duty, the city has saved money by not paying a salary for the permits and inspections job.”

Two months later, the Repository in a November 14, 2011, report titled, “North Canton hires permits superintendent” you state that the city has hired a new superintendent of permits after spending several months with the development director doubling up on duties.

In that report Mayor, you say, “Eric Bowles … once again will be able to focus on bringing new business to the city now that Bill Bartos has been named superintendent of permits. You, Mayor, are quoted as saying, “We can’t go with one person managing both departments.”

A week later at the Council of the Whole meeting of November 21, under questioning by Councilmember Foltz, Mayor Held stated that Eric Bowles would continue in Permits and Development with the new title of Director of Permits & Development.

Which is it Mayor Held? Either Mr. Bowles can handle both the Department of Development and the Department of Permits & Inspection or he cannot?

If Eric Bowles is going to continue to head up both departments, what was the reason for the appointment of Bill Bartos to be Permits Superintendent two weeks ago?

Clearly, Mayor Held, the appointment of Bill Bartos to the position of Superintendent of Permits has been nothing but a ruse. It is obvious to me that you have intended from the beginning to hire an assistant administrator so that you will have a replacement for City Administrator Grimes when Mr. Grimes steps down early next year. I might add that you have acknowledged to me in speculation that Mr. Grimes would serve as City Administrator for only 12 to 18 months from the time of his appointment in March 2011.

Last week, more than one week after Bill Bartos began his new job as Superintendent of the Permits & Inspection Department, I learned in a phone conversation that the newly appointed permits superintendent had never met some of his staff. Given that newspaper accounts had reported that Mr. Bartos had been on the job over a week as the Superintendent of Permits, one would expect that Mr. Bartos would be fully engaged and involved with all the staff in his department.

Is Mr. Bartos actually working and heading up the permits Department or is he employed elsewhere?

The fact of the matter is that Development Director Bowles revealed to me that the newly appointed permits superintendent was not working in the permits department but in fact has been assisting City Administrator Grimes at City Hall.

Mayor Held, I would like to know the purpose in announcing the appointment of Bill Bartos to be the new head of the Permits & Inspection Department when you apparently never actually intended for Mr. Bartos to fill that position. I would also like to know if you find this kind of deception serves the citizenry of North Canton.

From City Council, I would like to know if you are privy to these orchestrations by Mayor Held and if you are a partner in this less than forthright plan?

Doesn’t North Canton have in place a search process written into the city’s personnel procedures that outlines the proper way in which high-level leadership positions are to be filled in the city?

It seems to be public knowledge that the city’s new permits superintendent was hired on the recommendation of a neighbor of Mayor Held. I would not call this an acceptable hiring process for North Canton’s next City Administrator.

Mayor Held, there is no manner of transparency and accountability in cronyism and that is what your recent closed-door appointment of a permits superintendent can be called.

Cronyism should not be the accepted method to finding qualified individuals to fill high-level leadership positions in the City of North Canton.

On tonight’s agenda is proposed legislation, titled Ordinance 103-11, to establish the classifications and rates of compensation for the positions of Director of Administrative Services and Director of Permits and Development.

I might interject here that the Director of Administrative Services was a position that was created for a former City Administrator in the present administration who was removed from office and then allowed to collect a salary for the remaining six months of 2010 before his employment with the City ended due to budget cuts.

North Canton’s financial situation has continued to deteriorate and there is certainly no room to fund newly created job classifications. With salary and benefits, the requested new job classification of Director of Administrative Services will increase personnel costs for North Canton taxpayers by nearly $92,000.00.

For the record, I would like to add that the press has published incorrect information regarding the salary of the recently filled position of Permits Superintendent. The salary for that position is $67,582.32 per year. This is considerably more than the $60,000 reported to the public by the press.

I would ask that this council not ratify Ordinance 103-11. To do so would reward Mayor Held for his efforts to bypass commonsense personnel policies in the recruitment, screening, and hiring of high-level city employees. Passage would also reward Mayor Held for trampling any notion of transparency and accountability in North Canton City government and make this council a partner in the Mayor’s plan of deception.

I ask that this council not let North Canton’s reputation be discredited by the statements and actions of the Held Administration that are intended to mislead the citizens of North Canton. Checks and balances in North Canton City Government are certainly needed to stop the plans of deception now being perpetrated on us!

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Monday, September 26, 2011

North Canton’s Health Insurance Benefits to Part-time Elected Officials Are Overly Generous

Prepared Comments Made to
September 26, 2011

It is no secret that the City of North Canton is struggling financially to maintain city services with reduced revenues. What I suspect is not widely known by residents is what compensation is provided to part-time North Canton elected officials while they serve in office.

North Canton’s Mayor receives a salary of $15,000 annually, the President of Council $5,700, and Councilmembers $4,800. North Canton’s part-time elected officials also are allowed full family health insurance benefits. The premiums and administration costs total $14,952.48 and with the employee’s payment of an 8.1 % co-pay, the cost to taxpayers for these health benefits come to $13,916.88 annually per official.

Part-time elected officials can choose to have individual health insurance coverage and the premiums and administrative costs total $5,777.76 and with the employee copay, the cost to taxpayers for these health benefits come to $5,380.08 annually.

It is my understanding one council member continues to keep his health insurance with his employer and one council member has chosen individual health insurance coverage. The remaining six part-time elected officials have chosen full family health insurance benefits provided by the city.

The annual difference in costs between family benefits versus individual benefits is $8,536.80 per part-time elected official and when multiplied times eight, full family health insurance coverage, if chosen, to seven part-time city council members and a part-time mayor amounts to added costs to taxpayers of $68,294.40 annually.

In 2002 when North Canton was contemplating a pay increase for elected officials, I researched salary and benefits of elected officials in nearby municipalities. At that time, four of the five municipalities contacted did not provide health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials. Those municipalities were Alliance, Canal Fulton, Louisville, and Massillon. Besides North Canton, only the City of Canton provided health insurance coverage for part-time officials. This has not changed.

When compared to the paid health insurance benefits provided by other area municipalities, North Canton’s health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials are overly generous.

I would urge this council to quickly pass legislation limiting health insurance to individual coverage and end family health insurance benefits to part-time elected officials.

This legislation would have to be enacted before the end of the present term of this council and would become effective with the incoming new council on December 1, 2011. If this council fails to act to restrict health insurance before the end of this council term, the city will lose out on a savings of nearly $140,000 over the next two years as Ohio law will not allow changes to compensation of elected officials in the term in which they are serving.

In the private sector, health insurance coverage is generally only available to individuals who work full-time. Is it fair and right that part-time elected officials in North Canton receive health insurance coverage beyond what their constituents struggle to provide for themselves in the private sector?

Is it fair and right that part-time elected officials not lead by example when the City asks its employees for concessions in union contracts?

Savings above and beyond those stated above could be realized if council members were allowed individual health insurance benefits from the city only if they had no health benefits through their spouse or their full-time employment. I suspect that some council members currently have secondary coverage or more through their spouse or their full-time employment.

In a February 12, 2008, Repository article titled, “N. Canton workers not receptive to wage freeze,” former Council President Daryl Revoldt remarks, “We are wrestling with a series of deficit issues for 2009, [Hoover once provided] ample and nearly predictable revenue, [but that has ended].”

The same article reported that council’s plan to deal with budget issues at that time were a wage freeze for city employees. My question to this council is why not lead by example and reduce the overly generous benefits it receives as part-time elected officials and show city employees that it will share in the pain that it is asking city employees to suffer?

The acknowledgment of the fiscal constraints facing North Canton by former Council President Revoldt occurred two and one half years ago and yet no one at city hall has focused on obvious savings that could be realized that were right before your eyes.

The last paragraph of the article reports, “Council also voted to spend $64,500 for a performance audit by the Ohio Auditor’s office. The move is supposed to help the city find ways to be more financially efficient.”

On January 6, 2009, the completed Performance Report was released to city officials. Recommendation 2.15 of the Performance Audit states: “The City should attempt to renegotiate provisions within its employee bargaining agreements that exceed peers or industry standards. These provisions are costly to the City, and successful renegotiations could result in significant savings.”

Shouldn’t this recommendation also apply to part-time elected officials?

I spoke to one councilmember regarding my planned remarks on this subject and he remarked that interest in serving on city council would decline if those particular benefits were curtailed.

To that I offer two examples in rebuttal. The first example is the North Canton Board of Education. Board of Education members receive a stipend of $125 per meeting they attend. There are NO other benefits. Has anyone ever seen a lack of candidates running for a seat on the Board of Education in North Canton? There is no personal gain to be had in serving and that has not diminished interest in serving on that board.

The second example is the part-time city council members of Hudson, Ohio. Hudson City Council members serve with a total compensation of $10.00 per month and NO other benefits. The Mayor of the City of Hudson receives $275.00 per month and NO other benefits.

This is true “Public Service” and after all, isn’t that what this is all about?

In summary, health insurance benefits for part-time city officials are not paid by an overwhelming majority of area communities. North Canton is struggling financially and fiscal prospects continue to be dim.

These savings can come without paying for another audit or a study at taxpayer expense. If each of you is serving for the right reasons and places the well-being of the community above your own self-interests, I ask that you implement these actions without delay to bring savings to the city you have sworn to serve.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne

Monday, September 12, 2011

Arrowhead Golf Course Purchase & Ownership Continue to Be a Fiscal Disaster for North Canton

Prepared Comments Made to
September 12, 2011

The purchase of Arrowhead Golf Course in 2003 for $4.2 million and the subsequent eight years of ownership of the property continue to be a fiscal disaster for the City of North Canton.

North Canton City officials do not want the public to know the current status of the property and have taken extraordinary measures to cover up the current fiscal crisis with the Arrowhead property, now known as The Fairways.

Three weeks ago, before the close of a Council of the Whole meeting on August 22, Law Director Hans Nilges asked that councilmembers review a memo he had sent privately to council members.

I have inquired for several weeks as to the contents of the memo only to be told that the Law Director has stated the communication is protected by attorney-client privilege. Since becoming the City’s Law Director, Mr. Nilges has used this claim of privilege rather frequently to block access to public records requests.

The memo was clearly designed to circumvent Ohio’s Open Records Laws. I have not seen the memo but after an 11-day wait for the City to comply with my recent records requests and confirmation from sources, I have learned, substantively, the contents of the memo: North Canton is ending the current lease of The Fairways with R & S Golf Properties, Inc., the operators and current Lessee of the former Arrowhead Golf Course.

In a July 13, 2011, letter from the City to R & S Golf Properties, Inc., Law Director Nilges states, “pursuant to Article XII, Section 12.1.1 of the Lease, the City is exercising its right to terminate the Lease, effective, December 31, 2011.”

Revelations in a June 3, 2011, letter from the City to the Lessee indicate that property taxes for The Fairways have not been completely paid by the Lessee as required for the three-year term of the lease and that there are concerns as to whether the required $80,000 per year capital-improvement obligation of the Lessee has been met during the lease.

A records search has also uncovered an appraisal of the golf course dated August 26, 2011. The appraisal of commercial property of this scope is not done overnight, so I can only presume that along with the termination of the lease in mid-July, someone ordered an immediate appraisal of The Fairways that cost taxpayers $3,800.

The 2011appraisal of The Fairways concludes that the property is valued at $1.9 million. This is less than half the original purchase price. Yes, the down economy has had an impact on this current valuation but it does not explain away the entire 55% loss in valuation. The $2.3 million loss off the purchase price for Arrowhead can only be attributed to gross overpayment for the golf course.

Eight years ago, after council voted to proceed with the purchase, I undertook efforts to allow the citizens of North Canton to vote on the expenditure of their tax dollars for the purchase of Arrowhead. I was halfway to getting the signatures for a referendum when the editorial board of the Repository decided to undermine the constitutionally protected right to referendum a legislative action by running an editorial urging residents not to sign the petition.

Do you think the editorial board at the Repository would like to share in the financial burden that they urged on the citizens of North Canton when they intervened to urge citizens not to sign the referendum? Not likely.

Over the last few weeks, there have been rumors that a prospective buyer was in the wings to purchase the golf course. At last week’s Council of the Whole, Councilmember Mark Cerreta stated that the golf course was not being sold. If that is the case, why was there a rush to order an appraisal of the golf course property?

The financial impact of the golf course on North Canton finances cannot be unloaded with a quick sale as the City has made a poor decision regarding the golf course property. In recent months City Council, for a fee of $14,417, chose to convert a $700,000 short-term note on the property to long-term debt, obligating the City to pay bond interest of nearly $200,000 whether the property is sold or not.

Page 10 of the Preliminary Official Statement (POS) for the bond dated March 2, 2011, states, “The Series 2011B Bonds are not subject to optional redemption prior to their stated maturity [December 2020].”

What is truly sad regarding the bond financing is the fact that there were funds available to pay off the Arrowhead notes in the CIC escrow fund that could have been used.

If the city is anxious to unload the golf course, why did this council issue long-term bonds on the property?

I would like to know, in total, how much city money has been spent on Arrowhead? I have made requests to city officials for a list of expenses incurred while owning the golf course but apparently no one knows or seems to even care.

I would not be surprised to learn that over and above the $2.3 million devaluation of Arrowhead, the City has incurred an additional $1.0 million in expenses over the eight years it has owned the property for debt service not covered by lease revenue, annual note issuance fees, appraisal and environmental fees, a 2005 storm study, and the list goes on.

In my hands, I hold a copy of the PGA MAGAZINE provided to me in 2003 by a highly respected and long-time owner and operator of golf courses in Ohio and Florida. It contains Part 1of a two-part report entitled “Wake-Up Call.”

The twelve-page report details the problems facing the world of golf and course owners. Golf play was on the decline and the report details that fact. One paragraph from the report states:

Core and avid golfers playing fewer rounds translates to a loss of revenue across the board – green fees; lesson and caddie fees; golf-car revenue; ball, equipment and merchandise sales; food and beverage; hotel rooms at golf destinations, etc. The estimated annual loss to the golf industry is about $2.77 billion per year. Yes, billion.

I read excerpts of this twelve-page report into the record 8 years ago to no avail. What has been particularly disappointing is to hear city officials continuing to defend the Arrowhead purchase.

The chickens have come home to roost and you are now getting your Wake-up Call. It is sad that your decisions have come at such great expense to the taxpayers of North Canton.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Monday, August 29, 2011

Does the City of North Canton Manage City Property & Personnel Effectively?

Prepared Comments Made to
August 29, 2011

I have observed over some time now the business of city government and I am prompted to ask the question: Does the City of North Canton manage city property & personnel effectively?

A few days before Christmas of 2010, a family on Pittsburgh Avenue suffered an estimated $250,000 in damages as a result of a fire. What caught my attention was the fact that firefighters were unable to use two nearby city fire hydrants. According to a Repository story dated December 20, 2010, fire crews tried to connect to a hydrant on the corner of Portage and Pittsburgh. That hydrant failed and when crews hooked to a second hydrant further north on Pittsburgh, that hydrant worked but broke within a few minutes.

Now, we are just seven months later and we have city residents dealing with sewer backups. In a Beacon Journal story dated, August 25, 2011, Mayor Held states, “the city will work on possibly clogged sanitary sewer lines.”

Problems with infrastructure are happening all too frequently. Is North Canton being effectively managed? Factoring in the repeated storm water flooding in the city that we are all too well aware of and one would certainly wonder what is going on with management of the city’s infrastructure.

Not as critical as the infrastructure failures noted above, but important just the same, is what I perceive to be a misuse of city personnel. Anyone who has ever attended a State of the City speech has surely noticed the abundance of city personnel who turn out. Many of these events have taken place during the workday. Clearly, city personnel cannot be doing their jobs if they are attending these political events.

How many city employees were ushered over to the Suarez event, less than two weeks ago, on August 18, 2011, while on the clock? We all know this has gone on but is this an effective way to manage city personnel?

My motivation for asking whether North Canton is effectively managed came to me on Tuesday, August 16, 2011. It was on that day, at approximately 1:15 p.m. that I saw four city employees in a city vehicle, waiting at the traffic light at the intersection of Dressler Road & Belden Village St., ostensibly coming back from lunch.

When I noted to one of the passengers in the car several days later that I had observed him in Belden Village in a city car around lunch time a few days earlier, he told me that the driver of the city car was looking at city water lines. Why would four city employees need to be riding around Belden Village looking at water lines at lunch time? Do you think the three passengers enjoyed spending their lunch hour looking at city water lines?

I have learned that only the city’s Fire Chief has a vehicle available to him to use on a permanent basis. I have consulted the North Canton Personnel Handbook and it states, “City Vehicles are to be used for City business.” Is the city’s vehicle use policy enforced?

Is there a policy regarding the misuse of city employees? Apparently, there should be one.

The instances above do not make me feel that North Canton is managing city property & personnel effectively. Given the city’s ongoing precarious financial situation, one would think we could do better.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Monday, July 11, 2011

92% of North Canton City Ordinances Adopted As Emergency Legislation

Prepared Comments Made to
July 11, 2011

In the year 2010, 92% of all municipal ordinances adopted by North Canton City Council were passed as emergency legislation. I suspect most North Canton residents would be dismayed to know that “municipal emergencies” are a common occurrence at City Hall.

The adoption of municipal ordinances as “emergencies” is not a new phenomenon by North Canton City Council. As a former councilmember, I questioned the need to repeatedly adopt legislation using “emergency” measures. This practice, I believe has increased and does not serve the citizens of the community.

For residents who are unfamiliar with the legislative process, the North Canton City Charter states that “…every ordinance shall be fully and distinctly read at three (3) different, regular council meetings unless Council votes to suspend this rule.” Without a suspension of this rule, the normal legislative process spans six weeks. After the third reading and passage by city council, the ordinance is then available for the signature of the Mayor. The ordinance becomes law 30 days after passage on council with or without the signature of the mayor.

The City’s Charter requires the affirmative vote of at least six (6) members of Council to suspend the rule requiring thee readings and allows adoption of the ordinance with just one reading.

The suspension of the rule requiring three readings is generally coupled with passage of an ordinance on an emergency which allows the ordinance to become effective immediately upon approval and signature of the Mayor.

Emergency passage of ordinances also requires the affirmative vote of at least six (6) members of Council and is considered an action that, “…is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety….”

North Canton City Council adopted a total of 105 municipal ordinances in 2010. Ninety-six of those ordinances were adopted as emergencies necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety of North Canton citizens. Seventy-six percent of those ordinances (80 out of 105) were adopted with just one reading. Would citizens have been able to learn of and make comments on proposed legislation before passage with a single reading? I suspect not.

Enacting laws, at any level of government, as emergency legislation as routinely as North Canton City Council has done for years, diminishes the very definition of an emergency.

The greatest impact to the citizenry is the fact that ordinances passed as an emergency preclude a citizen referendum of that ordinance. A referendum is the practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection. It is there for a purpose. It is one of the many checks and balances that are built into our process of government. A referendum protects the public from overzealous legislators and is allowed in 24 states.

The adoption rate of 92% of all North Canton City ordinances, each as an “emergency” is beyond sloppy. It tells the citizens of North Canton that its leaders cannot be bothered with democracy and the law.

I hope North Canton’s elected officials will work harder to represent its citizens in the future and not trample their rights simply for expediency and convenience.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Monday, May 23, 2011

Corporate Charity Continues Unabated in North Canton

Prepared Comments Made to
May 23, 2011

On tonight’s agenda for a 2nd reading is Ordinance No. 53-11. This is an ordinance authorizing the Mayor of the City of North Canton to enter into an Industrial and Commercial Occupancy Grant Agreement for project Omega.

What is Project Omega? Is this a CIA covert operation that is being undertaken by the City of North Canton that requires the utmost secrecy? Are City leaders embarrassed to identify the beneficiary of this legislation?

Why continue this cloak of secrecy? Is North Canton financing a raid in a foreign country that must be kept quiet for security reasons?

As we all know, this is an occupancy grant agreement to Suarez Corporation Industries (SCI). Unless it is your desire to hide this fact from city residents, I ask that City Council documentation reflect who is the recipient of the grant and drop the cloak of anonymity? Transparency in government is best for all of us.

Why do City Leaders believe that the only way to bring jobs to North Canton is to provide tax abatements?

Economic development and jobs can and do come to North Canton without corporate charity.

In 2006, Dr. Suglio continued with his investment in our community in spite of the fact that he did not receive an abatement of taxes. Café Gelato and Suglio’s Dental Practice are thriving on Main Street.

Next door to Dr. Suglio on Main Street, Legacy Bank located a branch bank without ever asking for tax abatement. This was a sizeable investment in our community that came without the need for a tax giveaway.

In May, 2007, a proposed abatement of taxes for the Sherwin Williams Paint store never progressed beyond discussion after the public questioned the need for tax abatement for a public corporation, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, with sales of $7.8 billion dollars. Sherwin Williams built their store and invested in the community without any abatement.

North Canton has seen other businesses locate here and contribute to the community without asking for abatements. CVS Drugs and O’Reilly Auto Parts are under construction at the present time without public assistance. Walgreen’s has built two stores in North Canton without tax abatements.

New tenants have located to the Hoover District without receiving tax benefits for themselves. They include The Schroer Group with a large number of professional jobs, TruBridge Total Care, and Commercial Fluid Power and several other smaller businesses.

There are companies that want to come to North Canton and willingly contribute, financially, their fair share to support our community. These companies want North Canton to prosper because they understand that a thriving community benefits their business.

It is unfortunate that not all businesses want to share in the financial stability and growth of our community. Apparently, there are some businesses that feel that tax laws are too burdensome or unfair. These businesses ask that they be treated differently.

Over the last four years, the City of North Canton and the taxpayers of North Canton have enriched the Industrial Realty Group (IRG), the owners of the Hoover District, with the transfer of $3,440,000 of public money directly into their pockets to jumpstart the rebirth of jobs at the former Hoover site.

How much more public money must be diverted to enrich private interests at the Hoover District?

How much longer does the City of North Canton have to continue to provide corporate charity to IRG owner Stuart Lichter, a millionaire many times over?

Mr. Lichter and IRG have been paraded to the public as being the answer to North Canton’s prayers regarding the restoration of jobs at the Hoover District. It seems to me that given the state and local tax dollars that North Canton has put into the pockets of IRG, with no obligation for any payback, that the reverse is true. North Canton is the answer to Mr. Lichter and IRG’s prayers.

And now, Benjamin Suarez, owner of the Suarez Corporation Industries, wants public money put into his pockets as well. Why does the City of North Canton have to provide corporate charity to Mr. Suarez, also a millionaire many times over?

Taxes are the lifeblood of a community. Taxes fund all the services needed by a community to exist. If leaders continue to find ways to unravel the obligation to support the community, who remains to financially support North Canton City services?

In the case of the occupancy grant proposed for the Suarez Corporation, apparently this legislation has progressed to a second reading without any agreement or specific terms ever appearing in written form to City Council. From media reports it appears that the City of North Canton is prepared to return to the company fifty percent of City income taxes collected from individuals, working at or near minimum wage, for the Suarez Corporation Industries.

Does it seem fair and equitable to take income tax money collected from economically disadvantaged individuals and turn around and give that money to the multi-millionaire owner of the corporation where they work?

If employee salaries are taxed for needed income taxes to the community in which they work, they should be able to realize that their taxes have gone for the betterment of the community in which they work rather than the enrichment of their employer!

This proposed Occupancy Grant goes beyond corporate charity. I hope that North Canton City Council reconsiders any endorsement of this proposed Occupancy Grant agreement or any other agreement such as this.

If the Suarez Corporation has a viable plan to locate some of its operations to the City of North Canton, that plan should include supporting the City, fully, under the tax structure that applies equally to all North Canton businesses.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne,
Resident, City of North Canton

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Was $15,000 Review of Performance Audit Beneficial to North Canton?

Prepared Comments Made to
April 25, 2011

It is no secret that the City of North Canton is struggling financially. Not only is that fact front and center in weekly discussions at city council meetings, it is apparent in the condition of the City’s infrastructure in this community we call home. Are City dollars being spent wisely?

Three years ago on February 11, 2008, North Canton City Council passed legislation to authorize the Auditor of State to undertake a Performance Audit to identify cost savings for City operations. On January 6, 2009, after nearly a one-year audit of city operations at a cost of approximately $62,000, the Auditor of State made 40 recommendations to the City in a 123 page report.

Not long after the release of the Performance Audit by the Auditor of State, City e-mails, dated May 14, 2009, indicate that then City Administrator Earl Wise was advised by Bruner-Cox that Mayor Held had asked their CPA firm “to assist The City of North Canton in regards to the January 6, 2009, Performance Audit….”

On July 13, 2009, Mayor Held signed a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with Bruner-Cox, LLP.

On October 14, 2009, former City Administrator Earle Wise signed a purchase order authorizing the expenditure of $15,000 for the review of the Performance Audit by Bruner-Cox. Three months later on January 9, 2010, a 32-page draft report labeled “Review of the North Canton City Performance Audit Project” was released.

Why has North Canton not received the final report that is contractually promised in the LOA? The last two bullet points in Attachment A of the LOA state that “[Bruner-Cox] will meet with North Canton City Council to review the draft of the report….[and] issue a final report to mayor and council.” This has never happened!

I spoke on this issue before City Council on July 12, 2010, in a presentation titled “$15,000 Audit of State Auditor’s Performance Audit Was an Utter Waste of Public Funds” (found in the minutes of the meeting
and online at http://opengovernment4nc.blogspot.com).

The Bruner-Cox review consisted of a replication of the recommendations made in the Auditor of State’s Performance Audit with the addition of very brief information from city department heads that was already generally known or could be found out in a brief telephone call.

Mayor Held, you stated last year that “[you] did support and authorize Bruner Cox to come in and provide oversight to the City… and that [you were] very confident, very comfortable with the work that Bruner-Cox did.”

I do not believe that North Canton City Council shares that position given that there was discussion under the Finance and Property Committee on July 6, 2010, to limit spending by your administration without an appropriation from council. Unfortunately, Council never moved forward with action on this.

Given that taxpayers have paid out $15,000 for this review, I ask that the Bruner-Cox Draft report be posted on the City’s Web site along with the State’s Performance Audit to allow residents to judge whether the City really benefited from a review of the Performance Audit for an added expense of $15,000 to the City.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne,
Resident, City of North Canton

Monday, April 11, 2011

North Canton Finance Chairman Acts to Quash Illegal City Contract

Prepared Comments Made to
April 11, 2011

The City of North Canton is currently at odds with the Ohio Department of Development (Ohio DOD) as to whether North Canton did or did not follow proper bidding procedures as required by the terms of a JRS grant awarding $5.0 million of State funds to the City for the Hoover Campus Redevelopment project.

Although North Canton explained to DOD in a letter dated September 7, 2010, that the City did follow proper procedures, DOD concluded in a January 7, 2011, letter to the City that North Canton did not follow proper competitive bidding procedures in the procurement of goods and services in the expenditure of $3.0 million.

The stakes are high for North Canton at the present time. Development officials have stated that if the City is unable to demonstrate that proper bid procedures were followed, they will demand repayment of the $3.0 million already paid to the City and terminate the Grant Agreement without disbursement of the remaining $2.0 million of grant funds.

One would think that the Held Administration would be mindful of the laws regarding the expenditure of public funds and of competitive bidding procedures, especially in light of the fact that the City is playing a high-stakes game with the Ohio Department of Development that could cost North Canton millions of dollars, but apparently that is not the case.

Finance Chairman Jon Snyder has revealed to me that he is holding his ground regarding the recent purchase of new cell phones for City employees and is telling the Held Administration to return the recently purchased cell phones as their purchase has not followed proper bidding procedures and been approved by the Board of Control.

Chairman Snyder became aware of the purchase when the Finance Department was billed by Verizon for the initial purchase of the phones and for service but had no funds with which to pay the bill. Chairman Snyder has told me that he has told Interim Finance Director Loretto to return the Verizon bill to the Administration and to tell City Administrator Grimes to return the phones to Verizon.

Chairman Snyder also advised me that when he asked for a copy of the cell phone contract, the Administration was unable to provide him a copy. After my written records request, a copy of the cell phone contract was provided to me and Chairman Snyder.

The one-year Verizon contract was estimated to cost $37,165.08. This is well above the current statutory limit of $25,000 set by ORC 735.05 requiring competitive bidding.

The previous contract with Sprint cost the City $31,386.20 in 2010. An e-mail from North Canton Finance department (March 17, 2011, from Chris Leamon) indicates that the City had 44 separate lines under the Sprint contract. The Verizon contract is for 66 separate lines.

Does the City really need a 50 percent increase in the number of cell phones in use throughout the City? I thought North Canton was in financial distress?

Section 4.05 of the City’s Charter controls the procurement of goods and services for North Canton. One provision states, “No contract involving expenditures [in excess of the statutory limit set by ORC 735.05] shall be entered into without prior approval of the Board of Control.” There was no such approval.

Section 4.05 also states, “No purchase or contract involving expenditure in excess of … [the statutory limit set by ORC 735.05] shall be made except with a qualified, responsible bidder submitting the lowest and best bid as determined by the Board of Control….” There was no competitive bidding for the contract.

ORC 735.05 is intertwined into the City’s Charter and it states that “When an expenditure…exceeds twenty-five thousand dollars, the expenditure shall first be authorized and directed by ordinance of the city legislative authority….” The Held Administration had not been authorized or directed by legislative ordinance to proceed with the purchase of new cell phones.

Mayor Held, the City is currently at odds with the Ohio DOD over the issue of failing to follow proper competitive bidding requirements. How can you make the same mistake again and not competitively bid the cell phone contract?

On May 24, 2010, Mayor Held signed into law Ordinance No. 45-10 requiring the Director of Law to provide written approval of all contracts as to form and content.

Mayor, did your administration comply with Ordinance 45-10 before the City entered into the cell phone contract with Verizon, an ordinance you yourself signed less than one year ago? City Administrator Grimes has provided no written record to me that shows North Canton’s Law Director approved the Verizon contract.

I might add that state statute, ORC 705.11 states that, “No contract with the municipal corporation shall take effect until the approval of the... city director of law is indorsed thereon….”

North Canton’s Charter, Section 3.01, states, “The Mayor shall sign, on behalf of the municipality, all contracts…”

Not until the City complied with my records request did Chairman Snyder and I learn that Interim City Administrator/City Engineer Jim Benekos signed the Verizon cell phone contract.

Mayor Held, why did you not sign the contract as is spelled out as a duty of the Mayor under the City’s Charter?

The lapses of leadership and the bold non-compliance with state and local laws by your administration are becoming quite worrisome. The financial costs to the citizens of North Canton for the failed leadership of your Administration continue to take a toll.

I ask this city council to hold Mayor Held accountable for these lapses. Please do not just talk amongst yourselves privately about these lapses of leadership. The repeated violations of the City’s Charter and state law are taking a financial toll on the City with each revelation of failure.

North Canton citizens need to be informed of the actions of government if democracy is to work. I ask that this council do its part and investigate the lapses that have occurred with the Verizon cell phone contract and report the findings to the public.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne,
Resident, City of North Canton

Monday, March 14, 2011

Appointment by Mayor Held for North Canton’s Chief Zoning Inspector Adds to Leadership Concerns

Prepared Comments Made to
March 14, 2011

In a March 10, 2011, Beacon Journal story, titled “Population declining,” Akron’s Planning Director, John Moore, states, “Deteriorating neighborhoods are a major reason that people leave.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Akron’s Planning Director and would expect that almost everyone in this room would agree as well with that basic premise. I only wish that Mayor David Held had the same understanding of the need to stay on top of the city’s zoning and code violations.

Even during the best of economic times, nuisances in neighborhoods detract from the peace and tranquility of city life. In hard economic times such as we are all living through now, well-kept neighborhoods can turn into blighted ones before anyone realizes what is happening.

Late in January of this year, North Canton’s Superintendent of Permits & Inspection resigned unexpectedly. Without delay, one would have expected an announcement that a key city department head had left the city and that North Canton was aggressively looking for a qualified replacement.

Per the city’s Web site, North Canton’s Superintendent of Permits & Inspection heads up a department that is responsible for plan review, permit issuance, and code inspections for commercial and residential construction and renovation. The department also conducts zoning, housing, and nuisance inspections and issues Zoning Certificates and Occupancy Certificates. The department tests and registers contractors and journeymen, issues water-connection permits, raze-building permits and sewer permits.

This is a great deal of responsibility, even for someone who is qualified to hold the position and a greater challenge in a department that is operating with reduced staffing.

Not until a March 4, 2011, news story in the Repository, titled “Changes in works for North Canton government,” was the public advised that a key city department head had left the city. For four weeks North Canton had no Superintendent heading up the Permits & Inspection department. In the same Repository story, Mayor Held relates that Economic Development Director Eric Bowles will serve as the city’s interim superintendent and might hold that position for six months.

Mr. Bowles has no certifications as an inspector in any building trades, as is required by the job description, so clearly he cannot be the Chief Building Inspector for the city.

Aside from that, one might ask if Mr. Bowles doesn’t already wear too many hats as it is.

Mr. Bowles has advised me that in addition to being North Canton’s Economic Development Director, with no staff support I might add, that he is also the Administrator for the North Canton Community Improvement Corporation (NCCIC), the Housing Officer for the Residential & Commercial Community Reinvestment Area, and the Project Manager for the Ohio Job Ready Sites (JRS) Grant for the North Canton Hoover Campus Redevelopment Project.

Mayor Held, Mr. Bowles cannot devote the hours that are needed to adequately serve in the capacity of Superintendent of Permits & Inspection and diligently enforce the city’s zoning and nuisance inspections. It is unfair of you to expect this of Mr. Bowles.

Furthermore, it is disingenuous of you to tell the residents of North Canton that the city is working to preserve the investment homeowners have in their properties and neighborhoods under this current interim appointment of Eric Bowles as Superintendent of Permits & Inspection.

I have been a long-time observer of North Canton City Government. For you, Mayor Held, I have observed your entire tenure here in North Canton. I question your decision-making and am keenly aware of the impact it has had on the city.

The first lease of the Arrowhead Golf Course comes to mind. The lease was negotiated by you as City Administrator, and ultimately resulted in a loss of $70,000for North Canton when the first operator of the golf course walked away owing the city a great deal of money.

The decision by you to have a local accounting firm re-audit the Performance Audit done by the Auditor of State cost North Canton $15,000. That audit was never completed after a draft was provided to the city. The draft simply duplicated the Performance Audit only months after the Auditor of State completed the work.

The delay by your administration for several years to renegotiate the water agreement with Aqua Ohio cost North Canton millions of dollars in water sold below water production costs. The dumping of street sweepings for years under your watch in violation of state law was another needless expense for North Canton taxpayers.

I am sure I could add to the above list but I believe my point is made.

Mayor Held, where is your leadership on issues before the city? You did not take a position on the proposal to house individuals with mental illness at the Harleigh House on North Main Street. You have not taken a stand on the possible threat hydraulic fracking has on the city’s water sources.

My concerns about failed leadership in your administration on various issues over the years reminds me of a fictional character, named Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, the Captain of the U.S.S. Caine in the movie, The Caine Mutiny.

In the fictional story, Captain Queeg is relieved of command by the First Officer of the Caine believing the Captain was unable to command effectively.

Further, I ask why you as Mayor did not relieve your City Administrator when you had told me several years ago that you were unhappy with his leadership of the city.

Just as you have shown repeatedly over the years that you have been unable to lead and effectively manage the City of North Canton, I believe I can say that the appointment of an overburdened Economic Development Director to be the Superintendent of Permits & Inspection Department will only reinforce the perception of your lack of leadership.

Deteriorating neighborhoods will only reinforce that perception by the city and the world at-large.

Please appoint a Superintendent of Permits & Inspection who has the time and expertise to handle the position and who can effectively and diligently work to maintain North Canton neighborhoods from decline.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne,
Resident, City of North Canton

Monday, January 31, 2011

North Canton Streets Go Unpaved While Extraordinary Bonuses & Benefits Are Paid to City Workers

Prepared Comments Made to
January 31, 2011

For the last several years, council has made no secret of the precarious financial situation that the city has been facing for a number of years now.

One might ask if Mayor Held over the last five years as Mayor has made the tough decisions that are needed to put North Canton on a sound financial course for the future. Has City Council made the tough decisions it told residents were needed when town meetings were held at the Civic Center several years ago. President of City Council Revoldt talked of a state takeover during the town hall meeting if North Canton did not stop the City’s downward fiscal spiral.

Anyone who was at the meeting of the Council of the Whole last Monday, January 24, 2011, might question if city leaders really have a grip on the city’s financial condition. It seems to me that financial decisions are only being made at the eleventh hour when there are no other options available.

A good example of a crisis now facing the City is the revelation that North Canton’s promises to City employees to pay an unlimited amount of accumulated sick time as well as accumulated vacation pay and Medicare payments to City employees upon retirement has grown to an obligation of $1,849,075. This debt obligation, partially offset by a fund, called the Compensated Absences Fund, containing $608,436 leaves an unfunded liability of over $1.2 million for the City. This liability will continue to grow unless action is taken to control them.

Benefits such as these in the private sector were contained or completely eliminated long ago.

How many more financial body blows can the City of North Canton take before the City reaches the point of financial collapse?

This year, four city employees have indicated that they will take retirement. North Canton will have to cut checks to these four employees upon their retirement for accrued sick time, vacation, and Medicare totaling $215,040. These are benefits that retirees will receive over and above their pension.

Ward 3 Councilman, Jeff Davies, went on the record last week stating, “The City is facing a crisis.” I agree with you, Mr. Davies!

Since creation of the Compensated Absences Fund in 2006, Council has funded that account to the tune of nearly $200,000 per year. Added to the $100,000+ annual cost of the longevity bonuses paid out to city employees just before Christmas each year brings the cost of providing these benefits to well over $300,000 each year.

During the presentation of the City’s 2011 budget by Finance Chairman and Fourth Ward 4 Councilman Jon Snyder, Mr. Snyder noted that NO street improvements were in the 2011 budget.

Typically, North Canton budgets approximately $250,000 for street resurfacing, annually. This is not a total rebuild of streets but a replacement of the asphalt surface only on neighborhood streets.

Sadly, it is apparent that longevity bonuses at Christmas for city workers and windfall payments of accumulated sick leave, and vacation pay doled out upon retirement are going to be paid before city streets are resurfaced. That appears to be the case as City Council has budgeted NO funds this year for street resurfacing.

Given that North Canton can only pay down the unfunded liability of $1.2 million at the rate of $200,000 per year, could one assume that funds needed for street resurfacing will not be available for the next six years?

Several on City Council have stated that current bonuses and benefits for city workers were put in place by administrations of years past. I can only ask you, Mr. Revoldt, and others who have made those statements, if each of you is acknowledging your past participation in those decisions when you make those remarks?

Will your participation in the decisions of today be more farsighted than your decisions of the past? Taxpayers can only hope.

It was stated last week by Finance Chairman Snyder that payments for sick time and vacation pay that city workers have accumulated “must be brought in line with the City’s ability to pay.” With that said, I must ask Mayor Held if he thinks his selection for City Administrator will be able to lead the city with Mr. Snyder’s marching orders as city policy?

I say this because as a retiring city employee, Police Chief Grimes is by far receiving the largest payment of accumulated sick time and vacation time, under the city’s present benefits program with nearly $79,000 to be paid at retirement.

The greatest portion of the unfunded liabilities is benefits promised to unionized city workers. Mayor Held, when Police Chief Grimes retires and becomes City Administrator in March, will he have marching orders from you to work to curtail benefits paid to future retiring city workers covered by union contracts?

Given how Chief Grimes has benefited from the current City policy on payment of accumulated sick leave and vacation pay on retirement, how effective will Administrator Grimes be in persuading unionized city workers in renegotiating those benefits?

Passage of Ordinance No. 13-11 as written will curtail payments for accumulated sick time and vacation pay only for the City’s exempt employees. Council must make the hard choice. There is no room to fudge on this.

Decisions such as this should have been made years ago when tax collections with the loss of the Hoover Company reduced city revenues by a million dollars annually.

I would urge everyone on this council and in the administration to remember whom they represent and who elected them to office. Benefits such as the ones that are paid out now are unsustainable. This council knows that and has stated that fact publicly.

Please get a grip on the cost of government or I assure you it will get a grip on you.

Tax money paid for these unsustainable worker benefits must be squeezed out to allow for road improvements.

Taxpayers must come first. The future of North Canton depends on it.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
Resident, City of North Canton