Ohio Open Meeting Act….part 2…revealing part of the swamp

swamp images

LFC was established to inform Lake County residents about the significant events that happen in their communities.  This is a collaborative effort to get the truth to the citizens of Lake County.

We believe in this old saying: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Given man’s sinful nature, great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. 

We have previously written an article about the fact that Lake County Commissioner “He who shall not be named,” in our opinion, violated State of Ohio’s Open Meeting Act when he gave the “bum’s rush” to yours truly as he unceremoniously ejected me from a meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors’ Bureau. This is a follow-up to that article.

We issued a complaint at the last Commissioners’ meeting, and the rebuttal was given by the Commissioners’ resident attorney. This fine, scholarly gentlemen stood up and held court. He proceeded to wax eloquently about how the ORC allows Commissioners to hold informational meetings and how unfair it was to refer to a certain Commissioner as Don Vito, and decorum must be maintained at all costs. After a few minutes, he had the Commissioners turned into victims of unjust, scurrilous accusations made by angry right wing zealots……I tell you he was magnificent! By the way, we really hope that the new administration building has some safe spaces with pillows, blankies, and coloring books for the Commissioners when they feel overwhelmed or unloved.

It was then that it became apparent to me that I had been lulled into a false sense of security all these years. Here I thought the citizens had an advocate, one that would see and help both sides; but, in reality, he is strictly the advocate for the Commissioners, no if’s, and’s or but’s. I will not make that same mistake again – I promise. Additionally, in deference to the advocate’s wishes, we will cease and desist from referring to the Commissioner as Don Vito; but he will forever be referred to as “He who shall not be named”…….we hope that this is displaying enough decorum for the advocate.

Let’s get into some details about the meeting in question, shall we?

LFC has done extensive research of the Ohio Revised Code on the Hotel Bed tax, and how the Visitors Bureau, a 501(c)6 membership nonprofit, and the Port Authority (established by the ORC) have been managed and how they are inter-related. During our investigation, there have been numerous conversations with many parties on the 2% hotel bed tax, and the 1% hotel tax “slush fund” (called the Tourism Reserve Fund) that was used like “peanut butter and spread throughout the County” (County’s words not ours).

As we wrote in our article, Port Authority and Visitors Bureau…Joined by a Coastal Manager and the ORC, we told you that we learned the Visitors Bureau has been funding the salary and pension of the Coastal Manager since 2014 out of the Tourism Reserve Fund (the 1% lodging tax fund under the control of the Commissioners). The Coastal Manager is an employee of the Port Authority, and we do not believe this is allowed under the ORC. All of this was approved by the Lake County Commissioners and the Prosecutor’s office, but they would never give their approval in writing.

On Tuesday, February 19, in the fifth floor conference room of the Administration Building, Commissioners John Hamercheck and “He who shall not be named” met with Visitors Bureau representatives: Scott Dockus, Executive Director; and Amy Sabath, Board President. Several Visitors Bureau employees were also present.

Commissioner “He who shall not be named” told me that the meeting was not an open meeting because nothing was going to be decided. Regardless of that statement, two (2) of the three (3) Commissioners were present at this meeting, and discussion of the Tourism Reserve Fund (a fund allowed by the ORC and which is controlled by the Commissioners) was the topic of discussion. In essence, it was a budget hearing for the Lake County Visitors Bureau, relative to the projects they wish to undertake in 2019 and for which they are requesting funding out of the Tourism Reserve Fund.

Other than approval for funding their 2019 tourism projects out of the Tourism Reserve Fund, was there something else that the VB was requesting? During our investigation we learned that the Visitors Bureau board does not want to continue to fund the Coastal Manager’s salary. We cannot confirm whether the Visitors Bureau board wants outright control of the Tourism Reserve Fund, or whether they just did not want to be told by the Commissioners how to spend the money.

The current balance of the 1% fund allowed by the ORC to be held by the Commissioners and spent for Visitors Bureau and Convention Center expenses is ~$480,000. The Port Authority did make a request for support for 2019 though Port Authority letter to VB re Coastal Manager

Why was Commissioner “He who shall not be named” worried that a representative from the public wanted to attend the meeting? If he had nothing to hide, then there is no justification for keeping the public out of the meeting. After all, they were discussing funding 2019 Visitors Bureau projects from the Tourism Reserve Fund, which is currently under the complete control of the Lake County Commissioners. Furthermore, the Lake County Visitors Bureau 2016 Form 990 LC Visitors’ Bureau, a 501(c)6 membership nonprofit is fully funded by public money at this point, i.e. lodging taxes.

Wait a minute…that word “membership” keeps coming up. What are the requirements of a 501(c)6 membership nonprofit? Does the Visitors Bureau have paid members? Uh-oh….LFC is on the case…stay tuned for more on that subject.

But remember now, according to Commissioner “He who shall not be named” NOTHING was going to be decided in that meeting on February 19. So if nothing was decided in the meeting, then perhaps an agreement in principle was made between certain parties before the meeting? Did you know that Commissioner “He who shall not be named” and Ms. Sabath, President of the Visitors Bureau Board know each other very well? They go back a long way. Here is where it gets swampy……

Ms. Sabath was the Executive Director of the Lake County Republican Party for a period of time back in 2004. She was a Central Committeeman and also held a position on the Executive Board of the Lake County GOP for many years. She had a political consulting business (2002-2017) and has been involved with many political campaigns. It is surprising though that Ms. Sabath’s LinkedIn page does not reference her work on the campaign of  Commissioner “He who shall not be named.” We are not sure why because her work must have been meaniful. Here is a copy of the Campaign Report showing a liability of $7,156.50 to her consulting company as of 11-20-16. Sabath Consulting Outstanding Debt 11-20-16
Here is proof of payment of $3,962.90 to Sabath Consulting on 10/26/15.  Payment to Amy Sabath 102615 $3962.90
And yet another payment to Sabath Consulting on 10/27/16 $726.60: Payment to Amy Sabath 102716 $726.60

Ms. Sabath’s resume includes time spent as a Consultant to Northeast Ohio Universities Collaboration & Innovation Study Commission in 2007 (during the time that Commissioner “He who shall not be named” served as Lakeland Community College Trustee) along with GOP Chairman, Dale Fellows, and Dan Troy’s Campaign Treasurer, Kip Molenar. She served as a consultant to Cuyahoga Community College (2009) and was an Ohio Lottery Commissioner from 2011-2014.

Ms. Sabath was also Director of Development for Willoughby Fine Arts Association from 2013-2017, and wouldn’t you know it Ms. Sabath brought two of her Fine Arts associates (one is an employee and one is on the board) to the Lake County Visitors Bureau. Oh, and one more thing…we understand that the Commissioners appoint 3 out of the 5 Visitors Bureau board members, and that Amy Sabath was recommended by none other than Commissioner “He who shall not be named.”

So did the Visitors Bureau get everything they wanted in that “off the record” meeting on February 19? If they did, then perhaps the Port Authority will have to figure out how to pay their Coastal Manager this year. We are not sure what happened with the Tourism Reserve Fund. Was the funding approved for the 2019 Visitors Bureau projects? We just don’t know for sure since the public was denied access to this budget meeting by Commissioner “He who shall not be named.”

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we first set out to deceive…….

Perhaps future records requests will shed some light on the subject. Rest assured we do not view this incident as being over….far from it….we promise!

 



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