The owner of the former Whispers bar on East South Street has filed three lawsuits that contend the bar was demolished illegally in 2010 after Akron’s Housing Appeals Board declared it a public nuisance.
George N. Zakaib, 52, of Lakewood, filed a series of civil suits in Summit County Common Pleas Court this month. Among the defendants are the city of Akron, Summit County and an area contractor.
Zakaib, who said the bar was his main source of income, asks for $2 million in damages in each of the three lawsuits.
The lawsuits were filed Feb. 10 and name the city as the primary defendant, along with its Housing Division, the city’s Housing Appeals Board and all five of its members. The other suits named the county’s chief building official and the company that did the demolition, Bob Bennett Construction of Norton.
“The city is operating the Housing Appeals Board illegally, and it has been doing this for decades,” Zakaib said in an interview shortly after filing the lawsuits.
The board members, he said, are hand-picked by the mayor.
“Most of the people on that board have been on it for 18 to 20 years,” Zakaib said, “and none of those people on that board is licensed or certified in electrical, plumbing [or] structural engineering.”
Without such certification, he said, “they should not be issuing demolition orders and should not be hearing building code violations.”
Zakaib said it is his position that all 88 counties in Ohio must comply with a state law requiring housing boards to have a certified mechanical engineer, a licensed plumber, a licensed engineer and a licensed HVAC worker.
The bar was in the heart of the city’s central interchange, he said, at 349 E. South St.
Court records show the city’s Housing Appeals Board held a demolition hearing in February 2009 and declared the building, which had three residential units on the second floor, as a public nuisance “unfit for human habitation or use.”
Whispers was razed Feb. 8, 2010, after Summit County’s chief magistrate denied Zakaib’s request to save his bar.
Cheri B. Cunningham, the city’s law director, said she has reviewed Zakaib’s suits and found them to be “baseless.”
“The demolition [issue] has already been litigated in this case,” she said.
Assistant Law Director John R. York, who was involved in the litigation, cited three previous court cases Zakaib lost in 2009 during his attempts to save the bar.
In the first case, Common Pleas Judge Lynne S. Callahan ruled the court had no jurisdiction to even hear the matter, York said, because Zakaib failed to file a notice of appeal of the housing board’s demolition order.
In the second case, in which Zakaib appeared to be asking for an injunction to stop the demolition, York said, Callahan ruled the matter already had been decided in the first case.
In the third case, in Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals, Zakaib lost again because he failed to file his appellate brief in a timely manner, York said.
“We feel we’ve already been through this twice,” he said.
“It should be over. It’s already addressed,” Cunningham said.
York also disagreed with Zakaib’s claim that the city is violating state laws on the composition of its Housing Appeals Board.
Specific city code on the board membership, York said, allows the mayor to appoint the board, requires board members to be U.S. citizens and city residents, and states that the board should be made up of the following: “a homemaker, a member of the labor force, a businessperson, and a member of the medical profession or another profession.”
Furthermore, Cunningham said, home rule powers in the Ohio Constitution allow the city to establish the Housing Appeals Board procedure and to determine the composition of its membership.
Zakaib is bringing the suits pro se, meaning he is representing himself in the cases.
Hearing dates are pending.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.