Summit Co. fair board awaits decision

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AKRON – Jan. 31 was going to be the Summit County Agricultural Society’s day in court. After seven hours in the courthouse – much of it waiting – the board got only a promise from the county prosecutor not to evict until the judge had made a decision.

Magistrate Judge John Shoemaker promised a decision on the society’s motion for a temporary restraining order sometime this week. As of presstime Tuesday, no decision had been issued.

Shoemaker asked the Summit County legal team to pledge no action would be taken by the county on the eviction notice facing the fair board and staff until the decision had been handed down.

He also required a stipulation from Fair Manager Elizabeth Hale that no binding contracts be signed that affected the operation of the fairgrounds until that time.

Members of the agricultural society board, fairgrounds staff, the Summit County Farm Bureau president, the entire family of fair board president, and a handful of fair supporters wanting to make their feelings known, attended the initial hearing.

Following the judge’s announcement, however, the small crowd filed out of the courtroom with the feeling that not much had happened.

The problem. The agricultural society, facing eviction from the Summit County Fairgrounds for a default in its repayment of bonds issued in 1993 by Summit County to build a fairgrounds arena, had filed suit Jan. 24 in Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

The agricultural society is seeking an injunction against Summit County Executive James McCarthy and the Summit County Council preventing the county from taking control of the fairgrounds and evicting the agricultural society.

The society claims it has a legal right under state law to occupy the fairgrounds as long as it organizes an annual county fair, and alleges the amended lease it signed with the county when the bonds were issued is not legal.

It is seeking an immediate temporary restraining order, enjoining the county from acting until the suit can be heard by Common Pleas Judge Ted Schneiderman.

Much of the discussion behind the scenes was of a possible settlement agreement the county put on the table.

No settlement. After extensive discussion, during which the entire fair board was called into the judge’s chambers two times, no settlement was reached.

The county, represented by assistant prosecutor John Quinn, asserted the agricultural society had no right to sue Summit County, because its incorporation as a nonprofit organization had been discontinued in 1987 by the Ohio Secretary of State when the society failed to file a statement required by state law.

Fair board attorney Pat D’Andrea’s opinion, however, is that the agricultural society is exempt from filing, as an organization “whose activities are regulated or supervised by another state official, agency, bureau, department, or commission,” in this case the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Through ODA. He presented evidence that all agricultural societies file federal income tax returns through the department of agriculture.

ODA internal auditor Jeff Kalbus, who identified himself as the “state supervisor and overseer of the 94 county and independent fairs,” testified that while any county agricultural society can incorporate, and some have maintained their incorporation since 1987, that has not been required.

The boards are incorporated by statute under Section 1711, he said.

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