AKRON – With the Summit County Magistrate John Shoemaker on record as finding that the Summit County Agricultural Society is not a legal entity, there is now nothing firm about the status of the future of the fair board or the Summit County Fair.
In his opinion issued Feb. 5, following the Jan. 31 hearing in the Magistrate Court in which the agricultural society sought a temporary injunction against County Executive James McCarthy, preventing him from evicting the society from the fairgrounds, Shoemaker reached two conclusions at law.
In the question of whether or not the county agricultural society has standing to sue the county over their occupation of the fairgrounds, Shoemaker concluded that the society, at least in the view of the Secretary of State of Ohio, “has had no legal existence since Feb. 17, 1987.”
“Ohio law is quite clear,” Shoemaker said, “that upon termination of legal standing of a corporate entity to conduct business, the only business that entity can conduct is the winding up or the wrapping up of corporate business.”
The society’s attorney Pat D’Andrea had argued that agricultural societies are exempt from filing under Ohio law because they are under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.
Challenge state. Shoemaker, however, said in his opinion that if the court were to decide that filing the statement of continued existence was not required, it would draw into question the whole concept of cancellations by the Secretary of State.
That Shoemaker felt was not an issue for him to decide.
It would require a ruling on the legality of the decision of the Secretary of State canceling the corporate existence of the society.
And furthermore, Shoemaker decided, “even if it is determined at some later point that his entity does have standing to bring this lawsuit,” he believed the society had no chance to prevail in challenging the legality of the contractual agreement it made with the county.
This opinion, said D’Andrea, is not only contrary to law, but has standing only as a recommendation to Court of Common Pleas Judge Ted Schneiderman, who has been assigned to hear the society’s suit against the county.
The society is seeking a declaratory judgment asking the court to prevent McCarthy from evicting the agricultural society from the fairgrounds and to settle what the lawsuit calls the “disagreements between the society, the county, and the executive.”
D’Andrea said he intends to file objections to Shoemaker’s opinion and decision.
The normal procedure, he said, would be for Judge Schneiderman to review the objections to the lawsuit made by Shoemaker and rule on those questions of law before the case can proceed further.
Delay action. In the meantime, McCarthy said the county prosecutor will file a counterclaim to the society’s lawsuit asking the judge to allow it to defer action on its claim to take control of the fairground while still affirming its right to foreclose on the society after Aug. 1.
“What we have decided to do if the court approves,” McCarthy said, “is to allow them to stay there through the fair in July and put on the fair, but to file our lien against the property so we can take possession on Aug. 1.”
The society would then be required to repay the debt to the county with 8 percent interest on any late payments.
McCarthy has asserted that the agricultural society is in default of the agreement it signed in 1993 when the county issued bonds to pay for the construction of the fairgrounds arena.
He said the society has paid only $110,000 of the $850,000 already due on the $1.5 million debt, and ordered the society to vacate the fairgrounds by Jan. 31.
According to Fair Manager Elizabeth Hale, two county employees were at the fairgrounds late in the afternoon of Feb. 5, within hours of Shoemakers decision had been released and after the administrative offices had closed, taping a notice to the door, stating that the society would have to vacate the premises or the county would be required to file an eviction action.
Settlement offered. An agreement offered by the county at the Feb. 5 hearing was rejected by the agricultural society board.
The county offered to take control of the arena and associated parking, leaving the agricultural society in control of the remainder of the fairground, and restructuring the debt to the county.
“They didn’t want any part of it,” McCarthy said. “They said the arena was where they made their money, and without that income couldn’t make the payments.”
“If they don’t want the county to take control of the building, they will have to go ahead and pay for it.”
D’Andrea said what the agricultural society has been seeking is a restructuring of the debt that would give them a longer period of time to pay it off and payments that could be met out of the income it generates.
Meeting with groups. In the meantime, Hale said, she has been meeting with various groups who have an interest in the fairgrounds and the fair, trying to explain to them what is happening.
“The 4-H kids are in a panic over the fair,” she said. “They don’t understand what is happening. They are asking why, if this is a disagreement over money, why we can’t just work it out.”
She said supporters and society members are now going to be attending the Monday night meetings of the Summit County Council to express concern and to ask the council to consider intervening.
“We are operating on volunteer time with only a few paid employees,” Hale said. “All we are asking is that they work with us on the payment, restructure the yearly payment so we can afford it.”
(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)