Thursday, July 11, 2013


It is appearing more and more that Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II's plan to reorganize the city parks and recreation operation (with a November ballot 4 mill levy being a key ingredient) might well fall victim to his ongoing battle with Bruce Nordman of Group 175.

Some local political observers think the levy will fail with no formal opposition.

So it stands to reason that if there is organized opposition in the form of a competing levy for beefing up Canton's police force, then its failure appears to be a certainty.

Witness this video from yesterday's Stark County commissioners' regular meeting and the appearance of Nordman during the Public Speaks portion of the meeting.

As stated above, a key to Healy's plan is to get Cantonians to agree via the ballot on November 5th to add 4 mills to their property tax bills to take funding of Canton's parks and recreation out of the city's general fund and replace it with the approximately $1 million generated by a dedicated levy.

Nordman, who lives in Vassar Park, told Stark County commissioners yesterday that he plans on asking Canton City Council President Allen Schulman to place on council's agenda for Monday an informal resolution committing council - contingent on the parks and recreation issue passing - promising some $1.3 million in general fund monies needed in order to upgrade Canton's police force to 175 strong which means that some 25 officers will need to be added to the force.

The thinking is that if the Canton general fund is relieved of financing parks and recreation, then it will have the money to meet Group 175's demand.

If the resolution is not placed before council or if council votes it down, Nordman says Group 175 plans to submit an legislative initiative to Canton voters by the filing deadline (August 7th) in the form of a "police specific" levy to pay for the Group 175 demanded upgrade in numbers of Canton police officers.

While Canton's parks and recreation department will continue to operate if the levy fails, it will not operate at a robust and adequately capitalized rate that the proposed 4 mill levy would provide for.  So in that sense, the SCPR believes the facilities, programs and operations are at risk in the tug-o-war between Group 175 and Healy.

Healy was so concerned about Group 175 opposition that he sent Parks and Recreation Director Derek Gordon to meet with Nordman et al in order to finesse the activist group into supporting the levy.

But the effort failed.

Witness the following video which the SCPR captured on June 17th.  The Report captured about 45 minutes of a total 1 hour 10 minute post-council-meeting "argumentive brawl" between Nordman and Healy.

So why is Nordman taking this matter to the Stark County commissioners?
  • REASON #1 - He says to keep the commissioners informed about his effort to make Stark County and its "crown jewel city" (which also happens to be the county seat) a safe community which is attractive for business and families to locate in.
    • Nordman first appeared before commissioners on March 6, 2013 (LINK to SCPR blog on his appearance) and presented a challenge to them to find a way to expedite the increased use of the available beds (501) at the Stark County jail.
    • Group 175 sees the jail's bed utilization factor as one of a number to help lessen Stark County's and Canton's crime problem.
    • One of the historical reasons that Mayor Healy has given for not doing better in alleviating crime in Canton was the reduction of county jail bed utilization to some 300 beds during the county's recent financial crisis.
    • Nordman cited the passage of a countywide "law enforcement specific" levy that Stark Countians passed in November, 2011 but still not fully implemented in March, 2013,
      • The commissioners' initial reaction was lukewarm at best but perforce of Nordman's insistence, they rallied to his cause and brought interim Sheriff George T. Maier into a commissioners' meeting to explain how and on what timetable he would get the jail up to 501 inmates.
      • In fact, Maier found a way to add 50 beds immediately in response to Group 175's persistence.
      • Maier has said that one reason he has not brought the jail up to its full 501 bed capability is because he cannot find qualified corrections officers.
      • Group 175 stepped up to the plate and put together a "job fair," designed to draw in military veterans, which was held in late April of this year and which provided a number of potential new hires.  Maier then decided to strike out on his own in setting up additional such events in a "thanks, but no thanks" to Nordman's offer to help organize future hiring events.
  • REASON #2 - (A SCPR conjecture).  Nordman knows the negative personal history between Commissioner Janet Creighton (whom Healy defeated for reelection as mayor of Canton in November, 2007) and Commissioner Tom Bernabei (whom Healy fired as his service director/chief of staff on January 26, 2009).
    • Creighton and Bernabei may be the most highly respected public officials in all of Stark County.
      • Being the savvy guy he is, he knows that he will get a sympathetic ear from the commissioners in his overall drive to make Stark County and Canton a safer community.
      • Undoubtedly, Healy bristles at Nordman's taking what appears to be a Canton situation to the county commissioners.
      • And if the political "bad blood" helps Nordman and Group 175 push the mayor into hiring 25 new police officers, he has to be thinking "good for Canton and good for Stark County."
The question now becomes:  Will Nordman's game plan work?

The SCPR is skeptical.

It is likely to be a close call as to whether or not Canton City Council will agree to pass an informal resolution if Schulman engineers having it put before council.  And The Report believes even getting the matter before council is problematical.

Presumably we will know by the end of council's meeting of July 15th whether or not the demanded resolution is in the offing.

This matter of adding 25 police officers has now come down to being a matter of who has the stronger political will and strength (vis-a-vis council) between Healy and Nordman and his Group 175.

The Report believes that the mayor has the heft (Babcock, Cole, Dougherty, Griffin, Smith and West) with council to get to a 6 to 6 tie.  Such a scenario would leave it in tie-breaker Schulman's hands.

Which way will Schulman go, if it comes down to his exercising his tie-breaker role?

It is anybody's guess. 

If the resolution track does not work, then the only alternative is via an "initiative petition" as spelled out by Ohio Revised Code Section 731.28 (LINK).

The SCPR wonders whether or not there is enough time (to meet the August 7 deadline) for Group 175 to collect nearly 2,000 valid voter signatures, present the petitions to the Canton auditor (presumably on or about July 16) which after 10 days of the submission is to transmit them to the Stark County Board of Elections which has up to 10 days to certify the required number of valid signatures (10% of Cantonians voting in the Kasich/Strickland race of 2010).

The Report believes that failing the informal council resolution route, a successful effort to get a "for police only" levy on the ballot would be the death knell for the parks and recreation levy.

Canton officials have tried to talk Group 175 into waiting until the Spring, 2014 to push for a police levy.

But to no avail.

Healy and Nordman are very determined individuals and it appears that their differences may doom the parks and recreation levy.

Add to the Healy/Nordman (Group 175) rift:
  • the fact that the Ohio Legislature has taken away the 12.5% rollback on property taxes, and 
  • has disqualified future homestead exemptions for those with $30,000 and over in income from qualifying for the exemption.
It is hard to see how a parks and recreation levy passes even if for some reason the Group 175 folks cannot meet the petition filing deadline.

Remember, some folks think that the levy will not pass even with no formal opposition.

Monday's council meeting could be full of drama.

Of course, there is nothing unusual about that, no?

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