Lake County Visitors Bureau…oh, what a tangled web you weave

Written by: Brian Massie – Lake County resident
March 6, 2021

We have been fighting the Lake County establishment on the issue of the Lake County Visitors Bureau’s non-profit status, and their funding for several years. We have informed all of the ruling elite in the Republican Party about this issue so NO ONE can claim ignorance on this matter. We will let the Court of Public Opinion decide if the actions by a lot of people in the County are appropriate or not.

Here are the facts:

  1. The Visitors Bureau is registered with the I.R.S. as a 501 (c) (6) non-profit. [This was determined via the discovery process due to a lawsuit I filed.]
  2. To be tax exempt, a section 501 (c) (6) must receive meaningful membership support.
  3. Trade associations and professional associations are business leagues. The Visitors Bureau qualifies as a Trade association.
  4. A business league is tax exempt under Code section 501 (c) (6) organization is a MEMBERSHIP organization characteristically supported by DUES.
  5. A 501 (c) (6) organization is not subject to Ohio’s Open Meeting Act, or any public records request. [a.k.a. Sunshine Laws] They are deemed a private organization not accountable to anyone, especially the general public.
  6. Per the Ohio Revised Code, the Visitors Bureau receives the 3% Hotel (Bed) Tax that is collected by the Lake County Commissioners.
  7. The number of directors on the Visitors Bureau Board has been “fluid”, and continues to change based on the whim of the current board. Several years ago, Commissioner Jerry Cirino, to his credit, stated he wanted more transparency and efficiency in the Visitors Bureau. Cirino had the number of board members reduced from 7 to 5 directors with 3 directors being appointed by the Lake County Commissioners. The Commissioners had control, however, only indirectly.
  8. Commissioner Cirino appointed one of his political consultants, Ms. Amy Sabath, to the board, and she was elected President. When I submitted a public records request, she indicated that they are a private entity and not subject to the public records laws.
  9. Commissioner Cirino kicked me out of the meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau. The reason given by Cirino: “Nothing is going to be decided at this meeting”. Transparency? Who needs transparency, or was it just a demonstration of power by King Jerry? (We will be exposing more of the “Texas Two-Stepping” by the prosecutors and others in future articles. We want to show the citizens how the deck is stacked against them on purpose.)
  10. Last year, the Visitors Bureau changed their by-laws and increased the number of directors from 5 to 7. At the Commissioners meeting held 2/18/21, there were 3 board members appointed by the Commissioners. Ms. Amy Sabath was not one of them. She is no longer a board member. The Visitors Bureau is now, curiously, considering increasing the size of their board from 7 – 9 members.

Here is a copy of their new by-laws, received via a public records request to the County Administrator:

Here is a video featuring Attorney Jeff Ruple at the Commissioners‘ Meeting held on 2/18/21.

Visitors Bureau’s Attorney Jeff Ruple speaks on behalf of the VB to the Lake County Commissioners on February 18, 2021. [Edited by LFC]

We captured the portion of the meeting highlighting the Visitors Bureau’ attorney Mr. Jeff Ruple informing the Commissioners that since their by-laws have changed the Bureau is a “self-governing body” [~ 1:00 mark] and the Commissioners‘ appointments are merely “recommendations” [~1:05 mark] to the Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. They can either accept or reject the Commissioners’ recommendations

We will let Ruple slide on his memory lapse [.49 second mark] of not knowing the makeup or conduct of the board prior to the change in the by-laws. For the record, he was their attorney during the lawsuit I filed.

The Visitors Bureau, a private body not subject to the Open Meetings Act or the Public Records laws [a.k.a. as the Sunshine Laws], are now telling the Commissioners, who control the purse strings of the Hotel (Bed) Tax, that the Commissioners have no say in the affairs of the Lake County Visitors Bureau.

They are accountable to no one!

Here is a video of yours truly speaking at the Lake County Commissioners’ meeting on March 4, 2021.

LFC believes that the Commissioners have three options:

  1. Allow the Visitors Bureau Board to continue not being accountable to the Commissioners and to the taxpayers.
  2. Stop ALL funding to the Visitors Bureau, and let them survive on their membership dues , and other membership support as mandated by the I.R.S. regulations.
  3. Create another Visitors Bureau that is under the direction of the Commissioners and is subject to the Ohio’s Sunshine laws.

Trying to work with the current structure in order to provide transparency may work in the short term. However, we can see that the Visitors Bureau is a rather “fluid” operation that changes the number of Board members quite frequently.

Unless the Commissioners address the foundational problem of the Visitors Bureau; namely, their private versus public body status, we run the risk of incremental changes over the years of them reverting back to their arrogant attitude of not being held accountable to the Lake County citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen of Lake County:

Do you think it is fair, appropriate, or legal for the Visitors Bureau to claim non-profit status, collect over $1 million a year from the taxpayers, and to have no accountability to the taxpayers or the Lake County Commissioners?

Do you agree with LFC that either this entity should not receive taxpayer funds, and operate solely with memberships dues, or they should be classified as a public body, subject to the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records laws, if they receive their funding from the Hotel (Bed) Tax ?

The citizens should get to decide….please express yourself in our poll.

To the leaders in the Lake County Republican Party, we ask:

Knowing the details behind this deception, why do you allow it to continue? What do you not want the taxpayers to know about this operation?

Remember, the citizens of Lake County are watching!!!!


Categories: Local News, Uncategorized


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