We told you all about the shenanigans going on at the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc. in our article Lake County Visitors Bureau…The Good, the Bad, and the VERY “Remarkable” Ugly. True to our word…promises made/promises kept…this article will help you connect the dots by exposing how the Executive Director, Scott Dockus, likely helped enrich his family members, and highlight Commissioner Jerry Cirino’s actions regarding the Lake County Port Authority and the Visitors Bureau.
Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc:
Mr. Dockus and Ms. Sabath, President of the Visitors Bureau Board, like to hide behind their 501c(6) “non-profit” status. Regardless of their non-profit status, which is probably being sorted out right now by the Charitable Section of the Attorney General’s office (see letter to Lobbyists for Citizens from Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose), the Lake County Visitors Bureau is a quasi-government agency because they are funded by public money. At this point, they are funded entirely by public money even though Ms. Sabath tries to make us think she believes that lodging taxes are not really public money.
For the record, Ms. Sabath is a paid political consultant for Commissioner Jerry Cirino (2016 PreGen CIRINO and 2016 PostGen CIRINO and is also Cirino’s appointment for the Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. (2018-02-22 Minutes of Meeting Appointing New VB Board Members)
Lobbyists for Citizens received a tip from a confidential source that perhaps Mr. Dockus was enriching family members with public money. Remember now, the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc. is wholly funded by lodging taxes, i.e. PUBLIC MONEY for Ms. Sabath and those in Rio Linda, because they have no paid members.
We never take things that our confidential sources tell us at face value…we do our own research so we have the documentation to back up what we are saying. To our shock and dismay, it appears that our source was absolutely correct. We gave Ms. Sabath a “heads-up” as to our findings and she tried to convince us that what Mr. Dockus did was okay…nothing to see here. Lobbyists for Citizens is NOT in agreement with Ms. Sabath.
Based on what we found, it appears that Scott Dockus hired a company owned by his son, Kent Dockus, to build the Lake County Visitors Bureau’s new website. The company’s name is YourSpaceCreative, and Diana Maliqi, fiancé of Kent Dockus and full time employee of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc., is the co-owner of YourSpaceCreative. YourSpaceCreative is a registered brand under Wayne Enterprises, LLC and is co-owned by Kent Dockus and Diana Maliqi. Two other registered brands under the Wayne Enterprises CLE, LLC umbrella are Kent Dockus Music and MaliqiMedia. They have quite a conglomerate going on there….
Lobbyists for Citizens made a records request for a detailed accounting relative to the allocation of lodging tax funds from the Tourism Reserve Fund for the period 2014 through September 2018. Jason Boyd, Lake County Administrator, produced the same timely (bed-tax-1-fund-expenditures-2014-2018). As you can see, the Lake County Visitors Bureau spent $140,000 in 2018 for the Remarkable Lake County branding initiative, which we believe may include the design and development of the new and improved Lake County Visitors Bureau website. We requested copies of the invoices paid for the website design, and we were told by Sabath that they are not obligated to provide records because of their 501c(6) non-profit status. We believe it also included social media marketing and other tasks performed by Diana Maliqi, who was paid as a contract employee in 2018.
When we wrote to Ms. Sabath about this matter, she wrote back stating that all cross-promotion of the Lake County Visitors Bureau and YourSpaceCreative had been removed from both sites because it had not been approved by the Board. Right in the lower left corner of the Lake County Visitors Bureau website “Built by: YourSpaceCreative” appeared. It now reads “Built by: Remarkable Lake County.” Additionally, the YourSpaceCreative website had a whole lot of information out there about their most recent project for the Lake County Visitors Bureau. They even had a case study out there, which has since been removed.
While we did not take a screen capture of that evidence at the time we discovered it (we won’t make that mistake again), Google can be very helpful in these matters. As you can see by the screen capture we took of our Google search, the content was, in fact, out on both websites. This is a very public admission that YourSpaceCreative did, in fact, develop the new and improved Lake County Visitors Bureau website and was heavily involved in work relative to the Remarkable Lake County Branding initiative. Additionally, as we mentioned above, Diana Maliqi was a subcontractor for the Lake County Visitors Bureau in 2018 and was hired as a full-time employee sometime either at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.
We are given to understand that Scott Dockus in his position as Executive Director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, which again is wholly funded by public money, further enriched his family members by hiring his son to provide the music for some Visitors Bureau events. This actually has been confirmed by several sources that attended one of the events in 2017 at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse.
It is also our understanding that the former Lake County Visitors Bureau Board was livid over this and other matters they viewed as questionable from an ethical standpoint. What, a board that was actually doing their job? They simply had to go!
We understand that the Lake County Commissioners, headed up by one Jerry Cirino, hauled the former Lake County Visitors Bureau Board in for a “Come to Jesus” meeting. Shortly after that meeting, nearly the ENTIRE Board resigned, and the Board has since been reduced to five (5) members, three (3) of which are appointed by the Commissioners, with each Commissioner being allowed to appoint a board member without question by the other two. Not surprisingly, as a long-time paid political consultant to Cirino, Amy Sabath is appointed along with two other board members selected by then Commissioner Dan Troy and Commissioner Hamercheck. Amy Sabath is elected President, and the rest is history. We understand that Cirino wanted a much smaller board for the Lake County Visitors Bureau, and well, what Jerry wants, Jerry gets.
Lake County Port Authority:
We find it VERY interesting that Jerry Cirino would take this drastic action with the Board of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc., a “non-profit” that receives public funds (we use that term loosely since there are serious problems with their non-profit status) for doing their job but, in our opinion, refuses to exercise oversight of the Lake County Ohio Port & Economic Development Authority Board for non-feasance on the Better Flop disaster.
For the record, this oversight is absolutely granted to the Commissioners by the Ohio Revised Code and because they control the purse strings…they fund nearly 100 percent of the port authority and airport operating budgets! Cirino’s attempt to shirk his responsibility to the taxpayer is disturbing to us.
Hypocrisy on parade…which left us with a contradiction that simply had to be resolved. Could the Better Flip Project have been Cirino’s stupid idea in the first place? We were left scratching our heads…Cirino is a business man…he ran his campaign for Commissioner on that…you know, a mini-Trump type.
As we have been saying, contradictions cannot occur…one premise must be wrong, and so we dig…and dig…and we found this little gem written by one Chad Felton, News Herald in March of this year, Willoughby-Based MyBoard Adds Advisors (also displayed proudly on the News page of the MyBoard website). Commissioner Cirino co-founded a for-profit business, MyBoard, which was launched last year. And Chris Madison, former Board Member for the Lake County Ohio Port & Economic Development Authority has joined MyBoard as an Advisor. Well isn’t that special. Chris Madison left the Port Authority Board at the end of last year.
You’ll want to watch the launch party video where Cirino’s co-founder stated the whole thing was Jerry’s idea and that Jerry always gets what Jerry wants. As you can see from their “Our Advisors” page on the website, Chris Madison, CPA, MT is a partner at Cohen and Company (a really big and well-known CPA firm in downtown Cleveland).
Chris Madison, supposedly a really stellar bean counter since he made partner at one of the most prestigious CPA firms in Northeast Ohio, has his fingerprints all over the Better Flip Project, which, as you know, is 100% over budget. How could a crackerjack CPA and two master builders on the Port Authority Board let that happen? The vote was unanimous for each incremental budget increase. So why do you think Commissioner Jerry Cirino refuses to exercise oversight of the port authority Board? Technically, the ORC does not permit the Commissioners to control the actions of an independent Port Authority, but control of the purse strings provide great leverage. Additionally, and this is really important, the Commissioners appoint EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the Port Authority Board. Perhaps losing $150,000 is nothing to Commissioner Cirino, or could there be other reasons? We will let the reader “connect the obvious dots.”
Commissioners’ Oversight or No Oversight? – That is the question
Why did Cirino “flex his muscles” with the former Lake County Visitors Bureau Board who was doing their job exercising oversight of their employee, Scott Dockus? Why did Cirino and company continue to approve funding of port authority operating expenses, i.e. the Coastal Manager’s salary and pension? Why was Scott Dockus allowed to hire a company co-owned by his son, Kent Dockus, and his employee, Diana Maliqi, to develop the new website? As Amy Sabath mentioned in her letter, the cross-promotion of the website was NOT approved by the Board so they took all of that down. So are we to assume that development of the website by YourSpaceCreative WAS, in fact, approved by the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc. Board. Sure sounds that way, doesn’t it?
By the way, Scott Dockus memorialized in writing the other day that the secret meeting, held on February 19, 2019 between the Visitors Bureau and the Commissioners was, in fact, a budget meeting for disbursements from the 1% fund known as the Tourism Reserve Fund, which is under the control of the Lake County Commissioners…just like we said. So far, the Memorandum of Understanding Agreement between the parties, which includes making a $75,000 payment to the port authority so they can pay their Coastal Manager’s salary and pension for 2019, has not been signed.
Note to Jason Boyd…we would not recommend signing that Agreement…we believe the ORC does not allow lodging tax funds to be used for port authority operating expenses. It is interesting that Cirino and Sabath chose not to sign the Agreement, but would rather let their respective employees take the fall if there are any repercussions.
Lobbyists for Citizens has filed four (4) separate formal complaints against the Lake County Visitors Bureau. In fact, it is our recommendation that the Lake County Commissioners cease and desist ALL funding of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Inc. poste haste until this mess is truly cleaned up.
And for the record, Scott Dockus does not live in Rio Linda. His personal business, as well as that of the companies of his son and his son’s fiancé, and his voter registration show the same address…in Lakewood. Some people believe he lives in Madison…but we can find no confirmation of that. He may be have lived in Madison for a hot minute…but now all roads lead to Lakewood.
Anyhoo…we will keep you posted as to what the State Agencies say about all of this nonsense.