Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Readers of the SCPR know that yours truly believes that Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II has grandiose plans for himself in terms of making his mark in the political realm as one of Canton's most distinguished and accomplished sons ever.

CLICK HERE to review the Stark County Political Report blog of December 5, 2011 which tracks Canton native son Healy's return to the Hall of Fame City from New York City where he achieved an MBA from the New York Stern School of Business with a mission to lift Canton out of her hard times of recent decades into her rightful place of being one of Ohio's, perhaps even the nation's, great cities.  A city which produced President William McKinley over 100 years ago.

Try as he may, it has been a struggle for Healy, now into his second term as mayor, to make much headway on his mission.

But it could be that he got a major boost on that path yesterday.  Stark County commissioners in a work session directed Stark County Prosecutor (Civil Division) Assistant Chief Deborah Dawson to draft an appropriate resolution for the commissioners pass as a first step to bring to Stark County a quasi government/non-profit land bank corporation as provided for by Ohio statutory law.

In that two of the commissioners, namely; Republican Janet Creighton (whom Healy defeated in her quest to be re-elected mayor in November, 2007) and Democrat Thomas Bernabei (whom he fired early on in his first administration from his post as service director and chief-of-staff), it is truly ironic that they comprise two-thirds of the vote that will be voting to form Stark's land bank.

To appreciate the significance of the formation of the Stark Land Bank Corporation (formally, Stark County Land Reutilization Corporation), the SCPR points to the website of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank which is the foremost national exemplary model of land banks, according Program Director Robin Darden Thomas of the Western Reserve Conservancy Thriving Communities Institute who was in attendance at the commissioners' work session.

Noteworthy from the site is a listing of the commission of the land bank, to wit:

  • strategically acquire blighted properties
  • return them to productive use through
    •   rehabilitation
    •   sale to new private owners
    •   demolition
    •   preparation for traditional economic development
    •   creative reuse such as gardening, green space, storm  water management
  • or other innovative and ecological purposes
  • increase property values through these efforts
  • support community goals through collaborations with Cuyahoga's individual communities, governments, lenders, and individual property owners;
  • and improve the quality of life for Cuyahoga County's residents through its efforts
As The Report sees it, the main (but not the only) beneficiary of the land bank being spearheaded by Stark County Treasurer Alex Zumbar will be the city of Canton and its 5,000 or so abandoned/dilapidated/vacant properties.

Mayor Healy has in the works (as a work-in-progress) a program for revitalizing Canton on the basis of rebuilding what he calls the city's four pillars:  safety, education, neighborhoods and jobs.

The mayor recited on March 1st in his 5th State of the City address his accomplishments on each of the pillars.

It appears that Canton is making significant progress in improving safety, education and jobs but is lagging (due to lack of adequate funding) in neighborhood revitalization.

He is rightfully proud of this effort on the neighborhood pillar during his four plus years in office whereby his administration has razed some 500 or so such properties.

But the pace is way too slow and it appears that a Stark County Lank Bank could be just what the doctor ordered for Mayor Healy to accelerate restoration of Canton's once thriving neighborhoods.

Families living in vibrant neighborhoods is an essential pillar in Canton's revitalization.

Joel Owens, director of the Stark County based Community Based Partnership told The Report in a post commissioners' work session meeting press conference that data show that neighborhoods with a vacant/abandoned property cause the remaining neighborhood properties to lose up to 40% of their value and if there are more than one such property, the remaining properties plummet to having virtually no resale value.

So if Healy can create a public perception that his leadership is bringing Canton back from the abyss and the "bringing back" includes elimination of "blighted" properties in the neighborhoods, then he has a real chance to achieve his high level political aspirations.

Director Thomas said yesterday that if the commissioners act within the next week or so, the Stark County Land Bank can be up and running in two to three months.

Canton (as did Massillon) did have a representative (Law Director Joe Martuccio) at yesterday's meeting.  And he indicated that Canton does have a high degree of interest in participating in the land bank.

Ohio law mandates that a county's largest city have a seat on the governing board of a land bank organization.  Canton, being Stark County's county seat and largest city, will be a significant player in the Stark County Land Bank.  Under the enabling law, municipalities get first dibs on land bank appropriated property. 

Mayor Healy is known among public officials as insisting that anything that Canton participates in that is nominated as being a Stark Countywide venture be controlled and dominated by Canton.  However, at best, in the context of the membership of the land bank board of directors (i.e. a five to nine member board), Canton will have a 20% to slightly over 10% say in the decisions of the board.

Should Canton's role be less than what Healy wants, too bad.  As said before, municipalities have certain rights and a voice, but not a veto power.

Of course, Canton, while Healy is mayor, could be the reluctant partner somewhat like it role it has as Stark County oriented officials try to put together a 9-1-1 emergency call receiving/dispatch system.  But under such a scenario, Canton would not get the maximum lift in solving its multiple blighted neighborhoods problem and thereby Healy would not achieve the drive to political stardom that he consummately seeks.

So it will be interesting to see whether or not Healy can accept a non-dominant role he is almost certain to insist on.

The answer will be determined on the mayor's assessment of whether or not he can achieve being the savior of "the Utica capital" (his name for Canton as a oil and gas fracking hub -  a description of  his key economic development piece), largely on his own.

It is a credit to Commissioners Bernabei and Creighton that they are supportive and indeed enthusiastic about a Stark County Land Bank given their personal negative history with Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II.

If Healy achieves politically higher office because of his success in leading Canton back from the brink of ruin because he has Bernabei and Creighton to thank for providing a crucial element for that success, all one can say is:

"Who would have thunk it!"  Ironic, to say the very least!

Here is a video of the highlights of yesterday's work session featuring Stark County Treasurer Alex Zumbar, the Stark County commissioners, Western Reserve Land Conservancy Thriving Community Institute Program Director Robin Darden Thomas and Director Joel Owens of the Community Building Partnership of Stark County, Inc. and Canton Law Director Joseph Martuccio.

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