Given the claim by Tony Joy Jr., who leases the Avalon South Golf Course from the city of Warren, that Law Director Gregory Hicks owes him $2,000 from a political fundraiser at the course a few years ago, it would be foolish for the law department to represent the city in a lawsuit filed by Joy's company, Avalon South Management.
Councilmen Doc Pugh, D-6th, and Bob Holmes, D-4th, are right in concluding that even the appearance of a conflict of interest makes the hiring of outside counsel a necessity. It isn't just the Hicks situation that should give Warren City Council pause. Various city officials have used Avalon South for fund-raising events, while others play the course regularly.
Joy sued the city last week in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, alleging that the city breached its lease agreement when it evicted him. He's seeking an injunction to block the eviction. The administration of Mayor Hank Angelo, with the support of council, took the action against Joy because he had missed rent payments, was in arrears on county property tax and had defaulted on a bank loan.
Recently, the city was forced to take out an internal note to pay off the balance on a $425,000 loan that Joy had secured from Second National Bank in 1995. Because the city had guaranteed repayment, it had to come up with $345,000.
City park: The mayor and council are trying to decide how best to keep the golf course operating as a city-owned facility. Angelo has suggested designating the golf course a city park, which would give it property-tax exemption status, and has talked about creating a five-member governing body. Three of the members would be appointed by the mayor, with council's approval, and two would be named by the Warren City School District.
Council has formed a committee to work with the administration.
But the lawsuit filed by Joy could pose the biggest problem for the city because, as Councilman Holmes points out, officials had overlooked his nonpayment of taxes and rent.
As for Hicks specifically, Councilman John Homlitas, D-3rd, notes that the law director was involved in drafting Joy's 1993 lease agreement and thus could be called as a witness.
Recently, we urged the city of Warren to request a special performance audit of the Avalon South Golf Course not only because of concerns raised about the expenditure of public funds, but because the facility has failed to break even financially.
We believe that an independent, qualified entity needs to be brought in to answer the question, "What's going on?"
Likewise, outside counsel is needed to determine the extent of the city's culpability in Joy's failure to live up to his lease agreement and to decide how to fight the lawsuit.