Published: Thursday, April 12, 2007
Traficanti wants Cafaro Co. to drop lawsuit
The JFS move to Oakhill is tentatively set to take place next month.
YOUNGSTOWN The chairman of the Mahoning County Commissioners has asked Ohio Valley Mall Co., a Cafaro Co. subsidiary, to drop the lawsuit in which the company seeks to bar the county from spending money to renovate Oakhill Renaissance Place.
"This lawsuit is frivolous," said Commissioner Anthony T. Traficanti during an emergency meeting Wednesday of the county's building commission, which is overseeing renovation of the Oakhill building. "This is our decision to move our agency. It's not Mr. Cafaro's or Ohio Valley Mall's decision," Traficanti said of the plan to move the county's Department of Job and Family Services to Oakhill. "We're going to move into our county-owned building ASAP," he added.
Traficanti said the OVM lawsuit, billed as a suit on behalf of the county's taxpayers, is costing the county thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees for its defense.
OVM is the landlord for the county's Department of Job and Family Services, which, since 1988, has been at Garland Plaza, 709 N. Garland Ave., on the city's East Side.
County commissioners purchased Oakhill in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last summer. The 353,184-square-foot building is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, 345 Oak Hill Ave.
Citing complaints from JFS employees about respiratory problems due to mold at Garland Plaza, commissioners voted March 15 to move JFS into temporary quarters at Oakhill, using the former hospital rooms as-is, until permanent quarters can be renovated for the department at the former hospital.
"This is an urgent issue," said George Tablack, county administrator, concerning the emergency move. "We want to put aside whatever fears or trepidations these employees may have had," he said, adding that the move to temporary quarters is tentatively set for next month.
The building commission meeting followed by one day the release by John J. Cafaro, executive vice president of the Cafaro Co., of excerpts of depositions taken from Traficanti and Commissioner David Ludt as part of the lawsuit.
In the sworn depositions, Traficanti and Ludt admitted under questioning by Cafaro's lawyer, Tom Anastos, that they knew little about the condition of Oakhill or costs to improve it before they agreed to buy it. Cafaro said the county commissioners were woefully unprepared to assume undetermined costs associated with Oakhill's renovation.
Traficanti and Ludt and building commission members David Comstock, John Logue and Joseph Sylvester issued copies of a letter they had signed calling upon Commissioner John A. McNally, Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, former County Treasurer John B. Reardon and current Treasurer Lisa Antonini to provide copies of any communications between themselves and Anthony Cafaro Sr., president of the Cafaro Co., and John J. Cafaro, or the Cafaros' lawyers, between Jan. 1, 2005, and the present.
The signatories ask for a response by April 25 and say they'll seek a writ of mandamus to compel disclosure of the records if they don't receive them in time.
McNally, Sciortino and Reardon opposed the county's acquisition of Oakhill.
"It seems that things weren't being done in the light of day by certain county officials," Traficanti said, without specifically naming anyone who he thought might have tried to hide anything.
McNally said he'd be glad to release any correspondence between him and Cafaro representatives and noted that he has unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement of both the taxpayers' suit and OVM's suit alleging the county breached its lease at Garland Plaza by neglecting to maintain the premises.
The county prosecutor's office already has most of the information, he added.
OVM officials announced a news conference will be at 3 p.m. today at the Holiday Inn in Boardman to announce a settlement proposal concerning the taxpayers suit, but John J. Cafaro would not disclose details of it in advance.
However, he said of the proposal, "The only winner will be the taxpayers of Mahoning County, not the county commissioners and not the Ohio Valley Mall Co."
The suit has never been about keeping JFS at Garland, Cafaro said. "It's about protecting the hard-earned money of the taxpayers of Mahoning County," he added.
Carol McFall, chief deputy county auditor, said the county has spent about $460,000 from its general fund for utilities and other operating expenses at Oakhill since it acquired the building last July, but she did not know how much of that was covered by rental income from Oakhill's tenants. The general fund is the county's main operating fund.
Shortly after the county bought Oakhill, Tablack said monthly rental income from the building's nine tenants was about $40,000.