Monday, December 18, 2017


UPDATE:  3:30 PM (On Black McCuskey legal services payments)







For Cantonians that "really" care about the future of Canton will take 39 minutes and 47 seconds to take in the entire The Stark County Political Report (SCPR) videotaped  Canton City Council committee "in-the-public-view" consideration of two proposed "formal" agreement between the city of Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Most members of council attended the meeting.  Committee member and Ward councilman Greg Hawk did not.  Nor did council president Allen Schulman.

And for those readers are "really, really, really" dedicated to ensuring that you understand what is at stake for Canton, here are the agreements themselves for you to read:

First, the Development Agreement: (34 pages)

Second, the Operations and Maintenance Agreement: (40 pages)

And if that is not enough to satisfy a craving to know as much as one can about the stakes for Canton in unfolding of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village Project (HOF-VP), then here are links to eight previous blogs that the SCPR has published on the project:
Of course, the SCPR recognizes that readers are very busy people and as much as they might want to obtain a thorough knowledge of particularities of the project, there is not enough time in their schedules to set aside the hours needed to be up-to-speed.

Accordingly, the SCPR is always good to summarize and break down complex matters such as the HOF-VP into digestible units.

The key question to Cantonians as far as the SCPR is concerned is how "deep-in" does Canton government want to get into the HOF-VP?

Though, like every other Stark Countian, the SCPR "hopes" that the entire projected at least $800 million gets realized; The Report increasingly doubts the viability of the project to complete fruition.

The city has already invested $5 million and undefined but obviously substantial amounts of taxpayer provided monies in administrative and infrastructure (present and future) taxpayer dollars expenditures to help the HOF-VP folks make a go of it.

Of course, $5 million in cash is not the only "out-of-pocket" payment by the revenue strapped city of Canton.  Witness the following letter from Canton finance director Mark Crouse showing the need to appropriate in 2017 nearly $70,000 for the current annual interest cost inherent in Canton issuing a $5 million bond:

In light of a likely Canton's "at-the-end-of-the day" contribution (cash, services and infrastructure improvement) appears to be relatively small compared to what could turn out to be a $1 billion dollars (when finished, if completed) project, it probably is "worth-the-risk" of the project coming up way short of ballyhooed bonanza that promoter-in-chief C. David Baker (executive director of the HOF-VP) dangles out as a "shiney object" for all to see as an irresistible lure to the down-and-out desperate as certainly the city of Canton is in terms of its finances these days.

If nothing else, as the project exists, Canton will come out of the:

expectations with a PRICEY $150 million high school football stadium that Director Baker thinks is something to brag about on the part a failing school system.

Not bad:  $5 million for $150 million.

Of course, the question will be, should the rest of the HOF-VP go belly-up (compared to "great" expectations):  Can the city and the school district afford to maintain the $150 capital asset?

A school system, by-the-way, that is "marginal" at best.

And how will Canton getting a "boondoggle" go down with those "private sector" companies who have yet to be paid for the work that has gone into the stadium:

For example:

It appears that there has nothing been going on (even before the recent "exceedingly-cold-weather-snap) in terms on getting on with aspects (right now, the hotel) of the project beyond the stadium itself.

Recently, a Stark County official pointed out to the SCPR that a previous web page on the HOF-VP website regarding the construction of the project hotel has been taken off a "feature" page and relegated to the "back" pages (i.e. one now has to "search" for 'hotel') of the HOF-VP website.


Construction scheduled to start in September, 2017?

Having trouble raising financing?

Canton, being in dire financial straits nowadays, needs a heavy dose of "due diligence" to ensure that to the degree the city is involved, it and its taxpayers are fully protected.

The SCPR's take is that council with Ward 8 councilman Edmond Mack (the de facto leader on council in scrutinizing the agreements) digesting the agreement in minutia is doing its job of exercising "due diligence."

Here is Mack in a SCPR interview post-December 13, 2017-Community and Economic Development Committee meeting. (4:43)

Of course, as pointed out in the video, Mack is NOT the city's attorney. But it certainly is an empowerment for council to still have Mack aboard.  Before the candidacy filing deadline in 2017, Mack was saying he was not going to run for re-election because of new responsibilities at the Plakas Law Firm in Canton.

Mack is listed in professional publications as one of Canton/Stark County's premier up-and-coming attorneys.

From everything the SCPR has seen of Mack, the attribution is merited.

Also weighing in on the meeting was Majority Leader (Ward 9 councilman) Frank Morris (who openly says that he does not trust IRG HOF developer Stu Lichter) talking about the obscure ways in which lawyers draft documents (including the HOF Operations/Maint & Development Agreements) so that non-lawyers have a very difficult time understanding the import of the language, to wit:

In all the coverage that the SCPR does on Stark County political subdivision government, Frank Morris is by far the most colorful local government official.

And he is painfully direct and pointed to those who cross his path of scorn.

One of the SCPR's most favorite photos of local government proceedings came at the Wednesday committee meeting as legal counsel Bruce Soares response to Morris' be incredible at agreement language which seemed to him to be saying that the HOF folks could have it every-which-way on zoning matters.

Based on having covered Bernabei in many different contexts over the past six years or so, The Report thinks that in a Bernabei unique way of countenance is cracking a "feint" smile as Soares addresses Morris' "every-which-way" comment.

Of course, this SCPR observation could be wrong.  But, if not, to The Report a "feint" smile in this context is hilarious!

In addition to Mack's "legal-eagle eyes,"  it appears to the SCPR that Canton's law department (Joseph Martuccio, the elected law director) under the watchful eye of city attorney Phil Schandel, Jr. and hired (May, 2017, see hire document below) private sector attorney Bruce Soares (Black McCuskey) is doing a fine job vetting processes and the law on protecting Canton taxpayers as the city moves forward on the HOF project.

But at what cost?  Over this continuing series, the SCPR in collecting information should be in a position to tell Canton and Stark County taxpayers how much (educated estimation) local government (in cash and opportunity cost) is putting into the HOF-VP.

Earlier this year, council appropriated $15,000 to pay Soares (actually Black McCuskey) for his work.  Apparently, there were earlier appropriation(s) inasmuch as Canton finance director (Mark Crouse) tells the SCPR that Canton has spent 44,480 in payments to Black McCuskey through November 30, 2017.

This expenditure and the interest cost of the $5 million bond issue is tangible evidence that Canton is spending scarce cash that it can ill afford to be spending.

And that is not all.

Canton's finance director has told the SCPR that Canton being scheduled to lose $80,000 in local government funding in 2018 is going to be difficult to absorb.

Moreover, Canton council will likely pass this ordinance tonight:

Well, what about the drip-drip-drip of $70,000 (estimated annual bond interest) and $44,580 in outside-legal-counsel legal fees and other (not publicly reported) undoubtedly thought to be de minimis expenditures?

Read this document on the legal expense factor.

Here is Schandel and Soares answering SCPR questions:  (3:03)

There were a number of meaningful (of course, in the opinion of the SCPR) council member inquiries during last Wednesday's session.

First, there was the discussion on who (as between Canton and the HOF) would be providing police/fire services at HOF special events.

As Attorney Bruce Soares explains in the following video segment, Canton has "the right of first refusal" in the sense that if city charges for services are not acceptable to the HOF folks, then the HOF goes out and gets competitive bids which Canton has the right "if within 10% of the competitive bid right to be the contractor for those services.

The video of Soares' explanation: (2:46)

Second, Ward 9 councilman Frank Morris raises two question (with Soares).

One re:  Canton government liability should there be a problem with non-government safety services contracted by the HOF:

and, two, (after criticising lawyers for using legalese) about whether or not under the contract language the HOF could supersede Canton's zoning laws.  (3:51)

A striking part of this video (at about the 3:30 mark) is Morris recognizing Canton Law Director Joe Martuccio as having taught him in agreement/contract interpretation:  "Look out for the little words like "may," "might," "shall,":  they'll screw you every time!"

All-in-all it seems to the SCPR that Canton City Council members (led by Mack and Morris) are making "due diligence" a priority in perusing the Operations/Maintenance and Development contracts that council will be approving in tonight's meeting.

Nonetheless, the SCPR thinks that the deeper Canton gets into the HOF expansion project, the risks of being "left holding the bag" in some fashion or another grow in the light of what The Report increasingly is skeptical that the HOF-VP will ever get anyway near the euphoria that super salesman C. David Baker generated in promoting the HOF Village concept back as far as 2013.

As said before, we all hope Baker knew what he was talking about nearly five years ago now and had a realistic plan to realize his dream.  Much of the evidence that is publicly available suggests that the Baker Plan was founded on a wing and a prayer.

Time will tell.

We likely will know "sooner than later!"

And it may not be a pretty picture for Canton government.

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