University Park Alliance, the troubled neighborhood economic development group focused on the area around the University of Akron, has lost two of its members.
Summit County and Akron General Health System have withdrawn from the UPA board of directors, confirmed both David James, UPA chair and Akron schools superintendent, and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Summit County Executive Russ Pry stressed he was “not abandoning UPA.”
Pry said he wanted to make certain his involvement as a board member of a land bank would not present a conflict of interest issue. The land bank, he said, could someday be in the position to grant money to the UPA once it emerges from legal and financial concerns.
As county executive, Pry is a board member of the Summit County Land Bank, officially called the Summit County Land Reutilization Corp. The land bank is a nonprofit corporation that uses state money from national mortgage settlements, grants and delinquent tax collections to make funds available to reimburse governments or purchase tax-foreclosed properties. The properties can either be razed, fixed up to resell or held for future development, said Pry.
“It’s my hope that UPA will continue to be successful. I believe in this role, we as the county and land bank can provide resources and we’re in a better position to perhaps provide resources down the road in helping this organization succeed,” said Pry. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to be on the [UPA] board and accepting [applications] on the [land bank] board.”
Pry said he decided to leave UPA in late 2013, when it became clear that the land bank would be getting approximately $2 million for future projects. He notified the UPA board in January of his resignation and has not attended a board meeting since, he said.
Asked if there were any other potential conflicts between the Land Bank board and UPA, Pry said city of Akron Planning Director Marco Sommerville is a board member but Sommerville could abstain from UPA decisions since the Akron mayor also serves.
Akron law director Cheri Cunningham said Sommerville is not a member of the UPA board and is a member of the Land Bank Board as the mayor’s designee.
Akron General’s view
Akron General withdrew its membership within the last month, confirmed spokesman Jim Armstrong.
Dr. Thomas “Tim” Stover, president and CEO of Akron General and a UPA board member, was not available for comment. However, in an email. Armstrong said: “Akron General Health System has withdrawn as a member of the University Park Alliance, choosing instead to focus its attention on patient-centered health system initiatives in line with its mission of improving the health and lives of the people and communities it serves. In addition, the primary geographic focus of UPA does not encompass the Akron General Medical Center campus.”
Akron General joined the UPA board in 2009 when it was invited, along with Akron Children’s Hospital, to join the collaborative.
James said there are no “ill feelings from the county or Akron General” to cause them to resign. “Those are individual decisions for all of us to make,” he said.
Pry will still be tied to UPA since he is named as an individual in a lawsuit involving a failed property deal. Stover and Akron General were not named in that suit.
The departure of Akron General and Summit County leaves 13 of the original 16-member board.
In another departure, Jennifer Thomas, former Akron program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, resigned in September.
At the time, James said he believed the Knight Foundation had questioned having a representative of the major funder of UPA as a member of its board.
The UPA board has a meeting today.
The group lost former executive director Eric Anthony Johnson, who resigned, and the Knight Foundation canceled $7.8 million in a grant and loan when it said terms and deadlines related to real estate projects were not met.
Monday, City Council discussed legislation that would give UPA $158,000 to help settle $1.4 million in unsecured debts not related to lawsuits.
Plusquellic said the unsecured debts need to be paid before addressing legal cases and that agreements are in place settling debts for significantly less than the amounts owed.
James said he believed that Plusquellic “is trying to set an example that if the city is trying to provide funding, the other partners should also provide some money.”
City Council will discuss the legislation Monday.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty