Tuesday, October 31, 2017




As The Stark County Political Report sees it, North Canton government in being "asleep at the switch" on the administration of its Community Investment Area ordinance gave birth to what The Report thinks is a full blown rift between that government and North Canton City Schools (NCCS).

Ohio law and the failure of North Canton government to limit the use of a Community Reinvestment Area tax credits (i.e. limiting to four units or less) resulted in the planting of a seed in 2012 that has matured into a horrific (in terms of community cohesion) rupture in schools/community relations that threatens the ability of the North Canton's overall ability to work together in the best interests of its citizens.

In 2012, an unelected Housing Officer (as provided for by Ohio law supposedly as a way to keep "politics" out of tax abatement decisions) decided on his own, and, if you believe it—unbeknownst to any elected city official—to award a 100% tax abatement to North Ridge Place, LLC for the building of an apartment complex near the intersection of North Main Street and Applegrove.

When the decision came to light (March, 2016), city officials scrambled to mitigate its effect on all property tax recipients (including to a small degree North Canton government itself) but mainly North Canton's schools.

Ultimately, an agreement was worked out whereby the abatement was reduced to 50% over 12 years.

It is not unheard of for rifts to erupt in communities across America in the context of public education teacher strikes.

A year ago, Louisville in east central Stark County experienced a teacher work stoppage that has the community in an uproar as manifested by a November 7, 2017 hot and heavy board of education election with the "for the teachers" side and "for the board of education" side pointing fingers at each other blaming one another for the draconian disruption of community unity that the bungled handling of teacher/BOE differences resulted in.

Back in the early 1980s, the Lake Local School District (from whence current North Canton superintendent Jeff Wendorf comes) experienced a teacher/BOE impasse that resulted in a work stoppage which poisoned community relations for years to come.

Ironically, in the 1980s the local-lead Ohio Education Association employed legal counsel for the Lake teachers was none other than Mary Jo Shannon Slick who, as legal counsel currently for the Stark County Educational Service Center, is in the thick of it as legal adviser to the NCCS on the abatement issue.  (Note:  Wife, Mary Olson, is an elected member of the SCESC)

In recent years Slick has been in the midst of many a battle on behalf of maintaining Stark County school systems' tax base when that base gets threatened by valuation disputes and/or Ohio's multiplicity of tax abatement/redirection legislative schemes. 

State Representative Kirk Schuring (Republican Jackson; the 48th District) boasts about his being a legislative force in formulating legislation designed to foster economic development projects on the backs of schools via taking from property tax revenues through abatements to entrepreneurs such as North Ridge Place or through re-directing funds to be used for infrastructure projects as in of $2.5 million in NCCS property taxes redirected to enhance the commercial complex at Whipple and Everhard knows as The Venue.

The SCRP sees the Schuring et al approach as a "rob Peter to pay Paul" (with Peter being local communities across Ohio; Paul being the budget of the state of Ohio) scenario.

Since Republican John Kasich took office in 2010, local communities in Ohio have lost about $1.2 billion in Ohio's funding of local government.

Ohio's schools, at best, have had to tread water on their finances in an uneven system of funding where some school systems get increases while others get decreases in a given biennial Ohio budget.

So it appears that it is Ohio's state government which has via inadequately thought out legislation created an environment in which financial warfare is likely to break out in Ohio's local communities in increasing numbers.

Consequences of devastated local community cohesion is likely to be manifested in Louisville, Lake and North Canton-esque community disputes.

The point is that no matter what the context of a community rift, a fracturing of relationship between schools (the heart and soul of most communities) and its political/community leadership is a stumbling block to developing growing and prosperous communities.

There is a lot of political/governance ineptness all the way from Columbus down to local communities throughout Ohio.

It appears that both North Canton government and NCCS BOE governance is infected.

Students, job growth and the quality of neighborhoods are likely to be casualties of these local government units being unable to get their acts together.

North Canton is one of Stark County's premier communities.

In 2007, what used to be called "The Dogwood City," (until changed by a recent city council action), it was announced that North Canton mainstay "The Hoover Company" would be no more and its over 2,000 family living wage jobs would be lost to say nothing of the millions in city tax revenues.

North Canton has struggled but it has shown signs of rebounding principally taking a $5 million Ohio Jobs Ready grant to bring in Brownfields reclamation contractor Stu Lichter (IRG and Maple Street Commerce) to make something of the vacated Hoover facility complex that graces North Main Street directly across from North Canton City Hall.

The project has been moderately successful in producing some 1,200 (likely much lower paying jobs) in various enterprises which have occupied the East Maple Street side of the complex.

In a recent interview with the SCPR, Mayor David held says that in another five years there will be 2,400 jobs at the complex being redeveloped by Maple Street Commerce.

What he does not focus on is how the 2,400 jobs (if they are realized) measure up pay-grade-wise to the lost Hoover jobs.

North Canton is more or less a geographically "boxed-in" community which the SCPR thinks is a huge threat to its continued viability as an independent community because of questions of whether or not it can sustain itself financially.

The threat to North Canton continuing to be North Canton is not talked about publicly by community leaders but one has to think they worry about the long term sustainability of the city with real rather than nostalgic existence.

Accordingly, the schools/city government rift over finances in a 2017 manifestation, in the view of the SCPR, of a fear that city officials harbor as thoughts of a "worse case scenario" must certainly plague them.

North Canton mayor David Held tells the SCPR that in all his years as a North Canton government official he has never seen a division pitting community members against community members.

While some North Canton city officials have clearly come out as "Vote 'No' on 44" (Held himself and Councilman at Large Mark Cerreta), The Report is led to believe that North Canton Council members are united that passage of Issue 44 will be a negative factor in North Canton financial viability going forward.

Within the past week, local candidate/issue campaign finance reports have filed.

Leading the way with $13,455 raised is a trio of  self-advertised "team players" in former North Canton superintendent of schools Robert Rhoden, incumbent board member Bruce Hunt and Andrea Ziarko.

If elected, Rhoden and Ziarko would be new to the board inasmuch as two current board members are not running for re-election.

Running as an "independent-minded" candidate is Jessica Stroia.

Strioia's chances will depend on whether NCCS voting district voters want to have board members who advertise themselves as "team players"  or a candidate who is running solo and therefore impliedly a person of her own mind.

Here is what one North Canton school district voter has to say about this line up of candidates:
... It is concerning to me that a “team” of three candidates have decided to run together rather than on their own efforts?  Are they evening campaigning beyond yard signs and the occasional mailer? Two candidates riding the coattails of an incumbent seems easy. They are all closely tied into Issue 44 with two of them on the levy committee.  The appearance is that both committees are closely tied together and a vote for one should equal a vote for the other.  If these candidates cannot act alone in a campaign, how will they find the ability to make decisions in good conscious on their own as school board members? 
 Here is a list of Hunt et al top contributors.

Here is Stroia's CFR.

Of course, in North Canton the really, really, really big issue is the fate of Issue 44.

This is the "community divider issue" that if it fails will likely have reverberations for years going forward in terms of the ability of North Canton's schools and North Canton government to work together for the well being of both.

A number of folks who contributed to the Issue 44 cause, also contributed to "Team Hunt," (Hunt, Rhoden and Ziarko), to wit:

Some 200 contributed to the Issue 44 alone.

Here is the CFR for "No" on Issue 44.

It appears that no matter who wins or looses on the board of education race and on Issue 44 that North Canton will have to abide a lingering, festering divided community.

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