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WARREN Questions are raised over loan for golf course



Published: Tue, February 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



One councilman is calling for a special state audit at Avalon South.

By AMANDA C. DAVIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Some city council members are worried that documents regarding the city's golf course suggest improprieties.

Council's finance committee heard recommendations Monday from Mayor Hank Angelo on what he thinks should be done to remedy financial problems plaguing the course.

After his presentation, resident Sally Shubert-Hall and Councilman James Pugh, D-at large, showed the committee information they say suggests the city authorized work at Avalon South Golf Course that was never done.

Pugh and Councilwoman Virginia Bufano, D-1st, think the paper trail leads to possible wrongdoing. They did not elaborate.

If council as a whole does not request that the state do a special audit on Avalon South, Pugh says, he'll request it himself.

2000 audit: Officials have said a state audit from 2000 includes findings for recovery against Avalon. Results of that audit have not yet been released. Tony Joy, who was notified by the city Thursday that his lease to run the course was being canceled because of ongoing financial problems, secured a $425,000 loan from Second National Bank in 1995 to make improvements. The city guaranteed the loan.

A council ordinance from that year says Joy was responsible for using the money to make improvements, including replacing the clubhouse, building a new restroom and repairing a roof on a storage building.

Council is to vote tonight on whether to take out an internal note and pay off the remainder of that loan -- about $345,000 -- because Joy defaulted.

Shubert-Hall and Pugh said city documents show a final estimate for the new clubhouse was to be $190,000, but that T & amp;J Construction of Warren was paid $230,330 for the work. They say then-mayor Daniel Sferra and T & amp;J owner James Nicolaus signed a contract March 1, 1995, outlining the $230,000 cost.

Work inspected: Shubert-Hall said the county inspected clubhouse construction and approved it after asking that some work be modified to meet codes.

Joy has said he's been interviewed by the FBI about the circumstances surrounding the construction of the clubhouse. The project was not bid out, though council at that time was told it would be, in a letter from David Robison, the city's director of engineering.

Law Director Greg Hicks said Joy was never obligated to seek competitive bids. He added, however, that he's confused by the nature of Robison's involvement.

Joy has said he had nothing to do with awarding the contract, that it was the city administration -- a contention Sferra has disputed.

Many of the decisions regarding Avalon and Joy's lease agreement to run it were handled by a prior administration headed up by Sferra, now a state representative. Angelo left the meeting before the presentation and no one was available to explain concerns addressed by Shubert-Hall and Pugh.

"All we want to know is, where did the money go?" Shubert-Hall said.

She and Pugh also say a new bathroom was never built, but council was told $26,000 of the loan was to be used for that. The same goes for $29,000 that council was told would be paid for a partial roof replacement on a storage building. That work also was never started.

Pugh said he does not think the city was getting its fair share of greens fees and other payments that Joy was contractually obligated to pay.

davis@vindy.com




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