Thursday, June 28, 2018


It is rather obvious that Professional Hall of Fame president/CEO C. David Baker thinks that he and HOF partner (i.e. HOF Village LLC) can tap into Stark County/Ohio taxpayer money with little if any accountability.

Back in 2016, Stu Lichter and several HOF officials met in executive session with the Stark County commissioners under the pretext that an open public meeting would subject them to having to reveal "proprietary information."

While the commissioners have not revealed the specific content of that discussion, The Stark County  Political Report has learned that session did not include any material which a reasonable minded person would conclude to be "proprietary."

Once it became apparent there was no justification for secrecy, what didn't the commissioners end the meeting abruptly!

A primary reason that the HOF is insulated from public scrutiny of the private sector's receipt of taxpayer dollars is due to Republican governor John Kasich's institution of his pet economic development project Jobs Ohio.

It will be interesting to see whether not Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray will be put to the test in this year's campaign on the issue of accountability for taxpayers for public monies which come into the hands of the private sector.

In the meantime there seem to be plenty of leaks of information of what the HOF-VP project folks are up to which information comes to this blogger is a steady stream.

HOF officials only have themselves to blame.  They need to tighten up whom they tell anything to  because it is a human need to share "inside" information with friends, family and close associates.

We all know The Repository management knows much more about the precariousness of the HOF-VP financing (meets with HOF officials weekly), but given it's "official" newspaper of the Professional Football Hall of Fame" status, seemingly only parcels out that news which paints a rosy picture of the project.

It is really strange that a newspaper which says each in each March (the newspaper industry's annual Sunshine Week) that it is committed to "letting the Sunshine in," appears highly protective of any information that might cast doubt on the viability of the HOF-VP.

Publisher Porter is reported to have accused certain Stark County public officials of "leaking" information about the financial difficulties the folks at 2121 George Halas Drive are undergoing.

Maybe Porter and his fellows Baker and Saunier need to hire a "on staff" plumber?

A major problem with HOF Village LLC getting funding for the rest of the village project is the LLC to sign up as a matter of attaining a formal, legal contract with the M. Klein Company.

Like everything else with the project, HOF officials say "any day now," but the days seem to be those long, dreary and dark days of winter.

And when the HOF folks think official public entity action is needed to advance the interest of HOF-VP financing, then they are highly prone to put public officials on a "firehouse" drill which, of course, might have the effect of public officials not properly vetting HOF Village LLC requests for action and thereby damaging the public interest.

The SCPR has learned that HOF Village LLC officials are promising that any future capital expansion (e.g. the proposed hotel now downgraded in terms of quality rating) will not be undertaken until the financing is in place, which, of course, if it a "real" promise, a major departure from the financial model that rebuilding Fawcett Stadium (now Benson Stadium) was undertaken.

It was really hard to hear Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Denny Saunier chastise Stark County political subdivision officials about their "lack of planning" over the years in the face of what he and his pals Baker and Porter with the apparent approval of the HOF Board of Trustees came up with in terms of a "hope and a prayer" to flesh out Baker's dream of Canton being the home of a Disney-esque HOF-VP.

Apparently, Saunier has no sense of shame!

There is plenty to critique Stark County political subdivisions on including lack of planning, it is just that Denny Saunier is hardly the person to do it.

Some Stark County political subdivision entities/officials appear to be so enamored of or intimidated by Baker et al that they make feeble, if any at all, attempts to make Baker and friends ("friends:" a reference to Repository publisher James Porter and Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Denny Saunier) accountable for taxpayer money by the millions going into the HOF-Village Project (HOF-VP).

The Stark County Political Report (SCPR, The Report) senses that there are more public officials representing entities with a direct financial stake getting nervous about the long term viability of the HOF-VP.

One can readily see angst in meetings with the Canton City Schools (CCS) Board of Education (BOE), the Port Authority, and with the various contractors who are torn "twixt and between" of wanting to help make the HOF-VP a success
  • (as the SCPR does so long as the project in largely done with "at risk" private sector investments and strict accountability for every Ohio/Stark County taxpayer dollar put into the project) 
and the fright they must feel at the possibility that they as public officials will be left "holding the bag!"

(Resnick/Bomberger top photo)
Luther/Simmerman bottom photo)

Eric Resnick of the CCS-BOE and Brant Luther (Port Authority  [PA] board member) deserve special mention in their attempt to do "due diligence" in protecting Canton's schools and county/state taxpayers from what the SCPR thinks is an fiscally irresponsible Professional Football Hall of Fame Board of Trustees.

Hence, recent CCS-BOE meetings and Port Authority meetings when taken in in-toto reveal an uneasiness as the HOF-VP sits idle while HOF officials desperately seek out private sector financing.

Below is a video excerpt of Luther at Monday's Stark County Port Authority meeting in which he does a "classic-due-diligence" Q&A with legal counsel (to the PA) in which he fishes out of Lawyer Simmerman (Krugliak/Wilkins) that it will be Bond legal counsel (Roetzel, Andrus of Akron) advising the Summit County Port Authority (the issuer of the bonds, which the SCPR understands are already spoken for) who determines whether or not HOF-VP infrastructure which the the bonds are being issued to pay (reimburse Stu Lichter?) for qualify under relevant Ohio Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law.


And, by the way, The Repository has published in past articles that at one time Lichter claimed an "owners' equity" of $152 million which the SCPR interprets to mean he says he is owed $152 by the project when financing resources are at a level to reimburse him.

Now, Stark County chief administrator Brant Luther in his own words on the Q&A referred to above:

Of course, the Roetzel/Andress work is private information (attorney/client protected), and, consequently the taxpaying public will not have one word on what specifically the HOF Village LLC PILOT (re:  the TIF, "payment in lieu of taxes") which is the stream of revenue for repaying the bonds.

Which (i.e. the bonds)  by the way the HOF Village folks attempted to get the CCS on the hook for if there is a default on the bonds during protracted negotiations between the CCS and the HOF Village LLC folks.

Here is Resnick in a similar exercise (as Luther) with CCS BOE legal counsel Jeff Bomberger.

Note:  Full versions of the CCS-BOE and Port Authority videos taken by the SCPR can be seen in the appendix section of this blog)
The SCPR does not think that the Plain School District BOE is being nearly as protective of its public.  The Report met with Plain LSC officials (board president John Halkias, Superintendent Brent May and Treasurer Kathy Jordan) on June 11th as consequence of having written a blog published on June 8th (LINK).

A request was made to at least do a audio recording of the meeting.  Superintendent May preliminarily agreed to an audio recording contingent on President Halkias' approval.

Halkias refused which is a strange position for the president-elect of the Ohio School Boards Association.

The SCPR has had a high regard for Halkias going back years.

But his handling of The Report's inquiry into Plain's challenge to the baseline valuation of the Benson Stadium by Stark County auditor Alan Harold left much to be desired.

The SCPR has it on highly credible and, by a person in a position to know, claim that Plain made demands on the CCS-BOE in order to settle its challenge of the baseline valuation of Benson Stadium parcel.

It now appears to The Report that Plain LSD was leveraging its minority position as a stakeholder in the property tax factor coming to the CCS-BOE and Plain LSD in the negotiation of a "compensation agreement" between the schools and HOF Village LLC.

As the SCPR understands this matter, both school systems had competing considerations to think about.  Twenty-five percent (25%) of the baseline value of Alan Harold's $4.5 million tax baseline valuation of Parcel 10009054 (the site of Benson Stadium and surrounds) goes to the CCS.

The competing consideration lies in the "compensation agreement" in which the SCPR understands that  25% of any increase of Parcel 1000954 is split 67%/33% between the CCS and the Plain LSD.  As of January 1, 2018 the parcel is valued by Harold as being $40 million.  And, he says, that the $40 million valuation likely will increase.


Because Harold is so much a part of the Stark County government, business and political establishment; he should not be involved in future valuations.  Rather, he should ask for commissioner authority to hire outside-government-appraisal experts to come up with reappraisals based on state-of-the-art appraisal standards.

The CCS interest clearly is in increase valuation, not the baseline.  Moreover, the Plain LSD has no interest whatsoever in the baseline valuation except, the SCPR thinks "to muddle up" things for the CCS in proposing a baseline valuation of $85 million which of course and obviously makes the "increase in value factor" far less attractive to the CCS.

The SCPR's take on Halkias, May and Jordan is that they were posturing in filing the valuation complaint in March until  Brent May was strong armed by Rep publisher James Porter.  May categorically denied that Porter "twisted" his arm to give way to the CCS preference for 67%/33 increasing value model.  Nonetheless, The Report does not believe him nor for that matter John Halkias who interestingly opened the June 11th meeting trumpeting his own integrity.

It had never occured to the SCPR to question his character?

After all, this blog is about public official public performance accountability.

Interesting that he should have at his initiative brought up the character topic, no?

One the most "pie-in-the-sky" reports on the HOF-VP is that project officials and friends are saying that the hotel and ancillary projects of the HOF-VP will be financed in "one-fell-swoop" impliedly to the tune of three-fourths-of-a-billion dollars through the efforts of The M. Klein Company.

When Klein was in Canton recently for the annual Regional Chamber of Commerce extravaganza, The Rep with great fanfare made it sound like he was "off-and-running" on the financing quest.

Now we learn that he doesn't even have a contract.  Hmm?

This story keeps shifting, no?

It appears that the HOF folks are getting sensitive about the cost of Phase I (the Benson Stadium and surrounds) as evidenced by a June 21st Repository report that the stadium cost now stands at $139 million as contrasted with the original 2015 estimate of $24 million.

Today, The Rep (probably at the direction of publisher James Porter in what appears to be a journalistic "cherry picking" and diversionary maneuver) published an article focusing on there being $15 million of public money in Benson Stadium.

It appears that the $15 million was garnered from a piecemeal examination of whatever fragmentary public records exist in effort by the HOF apologist-in-chief to put pieces of a puzzle together that some might buy as the real deal as an accurate portrayal of the extent of public money being in the project and not confirmed by an examination of HOF Village LLC accounting records.

Just let someone like the SCPR take a look at the HOF Village LLC books.

Let Baker and his financial officials field a range of incisive, probing questions.

And when is Hell going to freeze over?

In focusing on the claimed $15 million public monies input into the stadium project, The article sidesteps a much larger public monies issue which will end up in the project at whatever stage it ends on its trek towards being $1 billion, more or less.

While $15 million (if accurate) is nothing to sneeze at, there will be millions upon millions more of public money (direct, indirect and re-directed) that will find its way into the HOF-VP in the form of:
  • a Tourism Development District (TDD) sales tax,
  • a hotel (if it is ever built) bed tax,
  • a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) involving CCS/Plain LSD, 
  • in-kind public financing by federal/state and local governments on infrastructure,  and
who knows what else.

As long as Janet Creighton, Bill Smith and Richard Regula (or any two of the three) are county commissioners, Baker et al can forget an additional county sales tax for economic development that includes any part of the proceeds going to the HOF-VP.

It is tragically amusing that The Repository bigs have apparently mandated that the $139 million figure be justified in light of Baker himself is on public record saying that McKinley students should be proud to be playing high school football games in a $150 million facility.

Accordingly, The Report places very little stock in what Porter or Porter directed and likely edited assignments as well as those of his Repository special projects man Todd Porter have to say about the financial realities of the HOF-VP.

It is not the reporters who are responsible for The Repository's "ignoring" of the obvious.  Rather. to repeat the oft-stated opinion of this blogger, it isis all on James Porter and his minion editors.

But the real cost when one counts interconnected infrastructure costs and the like, some say, is more realistically about $171 million.  Others project that the cost for a "complete" Benson Stadium complex could balloon to about $250 million.

C. David Baker is said to have insisted on grandiose materials and "overbuilt" construction techniques using a high, high, high volume of union wage "overtime" labor hours which constitute the heart and soul of the mushrooming of the stadium cost from its original $24 million estimate to the much higher numbers (take your pick).

Obviously Baker is not an effective fiscal/financial guy himself and  appears to have heaped one phantasmagorical notion after another on his corporate-bureaucratic managers thereby undoubtedly (if they could speak candidly) make them feel they are chasing "an 'fiscally' impossible dream."

Nearly everybody credits Baker with being a visionary whose primary way of motivating those he desperately needs to pull off completing the HOF-VP  through a Dale Carnegie approach.

But some say he can be and cite instances in which he is a bully who can, as an example of his bullying forte,  face-to-face tell a public official (who told the truth) that the official should resign from office.

Ohio/Stark County taxpayers should be thankful for the likes of Resnick, Luther and others who do their jobs in protecting the public interest.

All eyes should be on the likes of Baker, Porter, Saunier who seem to be looking out professional football's interest (the millionaires and multi-millionaires they are) too much at the expense of the taxpaying public WITHOUT much if any credible accountability "to the taxpaying public."



(15 minutes)

(42 minutes, 29 seconds)

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