Akron shouldn’t give public money to East Akron Community House, but should help make sure services continue in its building, a task force has concluded.
“We believe giving any unrestricted public funds to EACH would not be in the best interest of the city, but do suggest that Akron participate in creating a plan for the future uses of the building at 550 S. Arlington St. with potential financing investment to secure the saving of that facility,” the task force wrote in a two-paragraph letter sent to Mayor Don Plusquellic last week and distributed to Akron City Council members Monday evening.
Plusquellic formed the task force in April and charged it with guiding the city in making decisions about assistance for the struggling organization.
Retired Judge Marvin Shapiro, who co-chaired the task force with the Rev. Ron Fowler, said the group convened six times, including a meeting with the majority of the EACH board and another with officials from Fifth Third Bank, which holds the mortgage for the EACH building. He said the group requested numerous documents that weren’t available and ended up mostly looking at public documents on the Internet.
“Our sole obligation was to evaluate whether or not an unencumbered investment would be a good expense for the city,” said Shapiro, who noted the task force is done unless called on to do more. “The general consensus was a resounding ‘No!’ ”
George Baker, the EACH board president, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is investigating complaints filed by three elected officials alleging negligence at EACH and dereliction of duty by the leadership. The agency has lost nearly all operating funds and programs.
Akron Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson said she is still exploring ways to secure the EACH building, which is currently being foreclosed on by Fifth Third Bank. Plusquellic has said the city doesn’t want to own the building, preferring to find someone else to take on this role and ensure East Akron doesn’t lose services.
“Everyone realizes that building — no matter what function or form EACH may take — is a valuable asset,” Miller-Dawson said.
Other task force members were: Fred Wright, president and CEO of the Akron Urban League; Malcolm Costa, president and CEO of Akron Summit Community Action Inc.; Lee Gill, associate vice president for inclusion and equity and chief diversity officer at the University of Akron; Bernett Williams, vice president of external affairs for Akron Children’s Hospital; Lois Foster, retired vice president of community impact at United Way of Summit County; Roberta Aber, retired CEO and president of Planned Parenthood NEO; and Rita Hosch, an East Akron resident.
Several residents who addressed the council Monday expressed support for EACH and skepticism about the city’s involvement.
“The city has no business taking charge of EACH,” Charlene Nelson said. “The city can’t even mow their own lawns.”
Damareo Cooper of Stand Up Ohio-Akron, an activist group, questioned how the mayor’s task force was chosen and why more East Akron residents weren’t included. Cooper is a new member of the EACH board.
“That is a valuable resource and it could be more than it has been,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.