See you in court: Agricultural society files suit to settle fairgrounds dispute

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AKRON – The Summit County Agricultural Society has gone to court seeking a temporary restraining order preventing an eviction and the seizure of personal property on the fairgrounds. The society is also seeking a declaratory judgment, asking the court to make right what the ag society defines as the county’s illegal activities.

The agricultural society received a letter from Summit County Executive James McCarthy in December ordering it to vacate the fairgrounds by Jan. 31, and threatening eviction.

McCarthy said the society is default of an agreement it signed with the county in 1993 when the county agreed to issue bonds to pay for the construction of an arena on the fairgrounds.

McCarthy said the society has paid only $110,000 of the $849,341 already due on the $1.5 million debt. Since the county owns the fairgrounds, he said, the county has the right to evict.

Settle disagreements

The lawsuit is seeking court action to stop the eviction and to settle what the society calls the “disagreements between the society, the county and the executive.”

It was filed in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas Jan. 24 by the the society’s attorney, Pat D’Andrea.

A hearing on the temporary restraining order has been scheduled for Magistrate’s Court at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 31.

The suit has been assigned to be heard by County Court Judge Ted Schneiderman.

In its pleading to the court, the agricultural society is asking the court to void any operating agreements made with the county in regard to the fairgrounds arena, or at least to order the county to acknowledge the agreement offered in 2000 covering the operation of the arena as a sports facility.

Breach of contract

The board is also asking the court to declare the county in breach of contract for not applying the $200,000 voted by the county council to capital improvement of the arena facility.

It is seeking an injunction against the county from breaching the terms of the 2000 written agreement, or in lieu of the injunction, for monetary compensation for all improvements made by the society on the fairgrounds since 1956.

And it is asking for an accounting of all monies and property received by the county that should have been attributed toward the agricultural society’s debt to the county.

The suit alleges that the agricultural society, under state law creating agricultural societies as public agencies authorized to conduct county agricultural fairs, is vested with the authority to control and manage the lands and the improvements for as long as it holds an annual Summit County Fair.

The pleading calls the county executive’s demands that the agricultural society vacate the lands and buildings and to leave any and all chattels that the society owns or controls on the fairgrounds as “the result of disagreements” pertaining to the society’s lease and operating agreement of the fairground.

Agreement restructured

The suit alleges that in 2000 the agreement between the society and the county had been restructured. The 1993 agreement and lease that scheduled the payments on the debt the society owed the county for arena construction funds was rendered null and void by a subsequent offer from the county.

The offer made to the society was to allow it to continue to manage the arena through the addition of $200,000 in new capital improvement monies to make it more profitable. The money was to be used for a sports/athletic floor.

The agricultural society was required by the agreement to bid all food service, provide the county a detailed marketing business plan, and provide the county with periodic income and expenses of the facility.

The society complied with all the requirements, the suit alleges, but the county failed to provide the $200,000.

Illegal seizure

The county’s threatened action, the suit alleges, is contrary to law, and will result in an illegal taking of the property of the society, of its members, and of third parties.

Since the county has maintained all books and records, the suit alleges, the society has never been able to confirm the correct amount due on the account, and that it has not been given credit for various transactions.

The society also alleges that the county’s conduct during the construction of the arena – financial administrator William Hartung’s refusal to pay contractors – resulted in the society being subjected to claims, lawsuits, cost-overruns, and delays, increasing the cost of the arena and reducing its income potential.

The county’s conduct, the suit charges, “was negligent, willful, wanton, and intentional.”

The agricultural society is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.

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