By Susan Tebben
Austintown officials continue to seek answers in the heated debate among the township, Penn National Gaming Inc. and the Ohio Racing Commission.
At Monday’s township trustees meeting, Trustee Jim Davis spoke again on the commission’s requirement of more seats inside the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course. Davis also responded to a comment from a spokesman for Gov.John Kasich, in an April 3 Vindicator story.
“I find it disheartening that they will return the phone call from a member of the media, but they will not return a phone call from a local government official who is trying to do what’s best for Austintown Township,” Davis said.
Davis was responding to spokesman Rob Nichols’ comments about an email the trustee had sent to the governor’s office. Davis asked for time to speak with the governor about racing commission issues.
Nichols told The Vindicator that Davis was asking the governor to “push these independent commissions around,” and what Davis wanted was not appropriate.
“While we want Austintown and the racetracks to be successful, [Davis] wants us to lean on them [the commission] ...,” Nichols said.
But Davis denied that, saying what he is asking for is a liaison between the builders of the racino and the commission to settle issues needed to get construction off and running. He also said the commission has claimed that Penn National and those present at the hearings — including Davis — are interested only in the gambling part of the race course.
The Hollywood Slots venue would be on about 194 acres off state Route 46 and state Route 11 near Interstate 80.
“The racing commission is benefiting from the [video lottery terminals], don’t let them fool you,” Davis said, adding that he is not asking for special treatment from Kasich.
Both Davis and fellow Trustee Lisa Oles brought up the issue to promote public attendance at a hearing with state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, and the Ohio Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committee. The hearing will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Austintown Township Hall on Ohltown Road.
Schiavoni said the purpose is to hear testimony from local elected officials, economic-development leaders and business owners about the racino. Members of the racing commission, Kasich’s office and Penn National have also been invited.
In other business, four new members were sworn into the reserve program for the Austintown Police Department. Hannah Banks, David Yohman, Adam Hess and Dominic Cicozi were welcomed into the volunteer reserve program.