Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Amended Lease of Arrowhead Golf Course Proposes Taxpayers Finance Unadvertised Sale of Property to Current Operators

Prepared Comments Made to
January 17, 2012

A little over a month ago on December 12, 2011, Finance and Property Committee Chairman and City Council President Jon Snyder held a committee meeting prior to that night’s council meeting to discuss authorizing legislation to amend the lease agreement between the City and R & S Golf Properties, Inc.

Chairman Snyder’s public explanation for amending the Arrowhead Golf Course lease was that without amending the lease, the City was precluded from selling the property if it chose to do so.

This explanation rang hollow with me as Law Director Nilges had previously notified the Lessees five-months earlier in a July 13, 2011, letter that as a result of the Lessees’ default in its Lease obligations, the City was exercising its right to terminate the Lease, effective December 31, 2011, pursuant to Article XII, Section 12.1.1 of the Lease.

With termination of the lease just a little more than a handful of days away from the December 12 council meeting, the City would have had no limitations on selling the golf course property. Thus the reason provided by Chairman Snyder for amending the Lease on the Golf Course was little more than political misdirection.

The agenda for the December 12 council meeting was amended after the published agenda items were addressed and Ordinance No. 114-11, proposing to amend the Lease, was added. The added agenda item was titled: “An ordinance authorizing the Mayor to enter into an Addendum to the Lease by and between the City of North Canton and R & S Golf Properties, Inc., an Ohio Corporation and Robert C. Purcell and David Scott DeMuesy as individuals (“Lessee”) executed on December 22, 2008, for the premises known as The Fairways fna Arrowhead Country Club, and declaring the same as to be an emergency.”

I would like to know who would like to take credit for drafting the less than two full pages of the Addendum to the Arrowhead Golf Course Lease and if council members read the amended lease before voting!

My concern is that each of the two sentences comprising paragraph 3.1.7 of the amended lease clearly violate Ohio state law and the Ohio Constitution.

The first sentence in Section 3.1.7 states, “Lessee shall have the option to purchase the Golf Course Premises for a mutually agreed upon amount not less than the appraised value of the Golf Course Premises provided Lessee exercises such option by the earlier of thirty days following any termination of the Lease pursuant to this Article III or December 31, 2014.”

I am stunned that anyone would propose to sell Arrowhead Golf Course property in this manner and codify this into law since the method of sale described in the amended lease clearly violates state law.

Ohio General Code Section 3699 specifies that the sale of real estate by a municipality must be advertised once a week for five weeks in a newspaper of general circulation within the corporation and bids secured before municipal real estate is sold.

The provisions as to advertising for bids are designed for the protection of the taxpayer. This procedure insures that the most advantageous terms possible are secured for the city, its residents, and its taxpayers.

The second sentence in Section 3.1.7 of the amended lease states, “The Parties agree to meet and discuss in good faith the possibility of the City holding a note for purchase in the event that Lessee exercises its option to purchase the Golf Course Premises.”

I am again stunned that members of this council and the Held Administration would propose the possibility that the taxpayers of North Canton finance the purchase of Arrowhead Golf Course to benefit private interests.

This is in direct violation of the Ohio Constitution, Section 8.06, which states in part, “No laws shall be passed authorizing any county, city, town or township, by vote of its citizens, or otherwise, to become a stockholder in any joint stock company, corporation, or association whatever; or to raise money for, or to loan its credit to, or in aid of, any such company, corporation, or association….”

As is typical of all voting of North Canton City Council, Ordinance No. 114-11 passed unanimously with seven votes in favor of amending the Lease that five months earlier the City of North Canton had already exercised its right to terminate following default R & S Golf Properties.

What I failed to note earlier regarding the Finance Committee meeting that preceded the vote to amend the Lease was that Councilmember at-Large Kiesling was absent for the committee meeting and heard none of the discussion and yet she voted on the legislation after arriving at the council meeting that was already in progress.

Equally noted in the vote to amend the Lease was the fact that Councilmember at-Large Cerreta voted on the legislation when Mr. Cerreta, as an abutting property owner to the Golf Course, clearly has a personal interest in the activities and use of the property. Mr. Cerreta, the prudent course of action for you would have been to abstain on the vote to amend the Lease. Furthermore, the praise heaped on you by Finance Chairman Snyder regarding your accorded prominent participation in negotiating the amended lease is equally disturbing as again you have a personal stake in the activities and use of the golf course property abutting your residence.

The amended Arrowhead Lease benefited no one but R & S Golf Properties. North Canton forgave R & S Golf Properties for property tax payments to the City owed by the Lessee in the amount of $16,089. Not addressed in the amended lease is whether the required annual $80,000 in capital improvement obligation has been met over the last three years and if the Lessee would or could continue meeting its infrastructure obligation in the future.

What are the odds that the current Lessee can exercise the option to purchase the golf course property if they are unable to pay the property taxes? Finance Chairman Snyder would have the public believe that is a possibility. If that is the case, advertise the property for sale and let all interested buyers submit a bid for the golf course property as the law requires.

The amended lease is flawed, taxpayers are fed political misdirection, and North Canton taxpayers continue to pick up the tab on this debacle.

At this time I ask that the amended Arrowhead Lease be voided and be replaced with
a new lease that does not violate the Ohio Constitution and Ohio State Law. If the Administration and this Council fail to correct the shortcomings of Ordinance No. 114-11, the violations in the amended lease can be resolved by the courts if that is the course the City desires to take.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton