The Scioto County Commissioners sat in attendance Thursday at the Southern Ohio Port Authority meeting, listening to board members voice their concerns and even watching as SOMC and Glockner decided to request their donations back from SOPA — albeit not the only two companies who are planning on requesting back donations made to the Port Authority.
However, after those discussions subsided and the board voted to accept the resignation of the only two employees of SOPA, Adam Phillips and Executive Director Jason Kester, the board turned its attention toward the Commissioners as several members were looking for answers.
“I would like to hear something from the Commissioners as to why this is being done. Is it strictly for financial reasons? Is it performance based … ,” a former SOPA board member asked Bud Sayre, chairman of SOPA, when inquiring whether the Commissioners would address the board and provide clarification for the recent decision to remove SOPA from economic development projects.
Sayre was first reluctant to have the Commissioners speak in the board meeting, citing the meeting was an in opportune time and place for that discussion.
A couple of minutes later, another board member spoke up.
“I wonder if they are willing to answer,” the board member said.
Sayre then asked the board if they had a problem with the Commissioners answering the question. After several members gave their approval, the Chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners Bryan Davis stood out of his chair to address the SOPA board.
“I think we have answered quite a bit in the papers as far as the issues that have brought us to this day,” Davis said. “I will tell you that it is unfortunate what’s happened. But I will also tell you that some of the comments that have been made by the director (Kester) were very disparaging.”
Davis described those comments as name calling of the Commissioners, obscenities toward SMV, FSSI and the entire project. Davis also admitted that the name calling didn’t bother the Commissioners, but the bigger issue was with the project itself.
” … We had to step in,” Davis said. “We were asked by the company to step in because of major issues … “
Davis then turned his attention to board members who were interested in pulling their money out of SOPA.
“I will say this as well, the gutting of the finances of the Port Authority, I see that as a pretty serious issue,” Davis said. “The (Scioto) county is owed $95,000, in past debt. I don’t know how many people on the Port Authority know that. Auditor (Dave) Yost will find all of this very interesting. As a result of the last audit, where there was a result of nine non-conformances discovered with 44 percent of the checks signed by individuals with no authorization on the account. Again, another issue that will have to be taken up by the auditor of state.”
After confronting those board members, Davis then admitted the Commissioners are ready to unveil their economic agenda.
The first step is hiring an economic director. Davis also admitted they are committed to building an industrial park in the county with a company located in Minford. The Commissioners have already spoken to Jobs Ohio and they’ve reached out to the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.
However, as far as the future of SOPA is concerned, Davis said that decision lied solely in the hands of SOPA. But Davis admitted, before SOPA could thrive, certain changes on the board might need to be made.
“What we’ve seen here today makes it clear that there are several individuals that would like to just dismantle SOPA — financially — and that’s fine,” Davis said. “It doesn’t go away. It’s still an entity. We’ve never said that we would do away with it. We made it clear in our statements the other day to the press. All of this has been very open and to the press.
“We created this resolution and the Port Authority would have to be uncreated by resolution. That’s not what’s happened here at all. We’ve changed the job description, what we would like to see done. But it’s clear that there are individuals that would like to go in another direction. I publicly would like to ask for those who are not in favor of seeing the Port Authority move forward on it’s current path, resign if you would please. That’s my public request.”
Davis said the Commissioners had made their decision, now the decision on the future of SOPA and it’s relationship with the county were up to the board.
“So, we made a decision in regards to our path forward,” Davis said. “We will be successful in the future. SOPA has a decision to make on their relationship with the county moving forward. It is the 10-ton elephant in the room.
“I don’t see this as an end. I see it has a reset … Let’s move forward. Let’s create jobs. Let’s do things for the community, for the taxpayers.”
After Davis concluded his address to the SOPA board, fellow County Commissioner Mike Crabtree weighted in on the financial side.
“The only thing I would like to add is the fact that we’ve been fighting with the state of Ohio for almost two years now over a potential $2.1 million loss in revenue,” Crabtree said. “We made that clear to not only the director (Kester), but the chairman (Sayre) of the Port Authority early on. At this point in time, that has never been resolved.”
Crabtree emphasized that the decisions made regarding SOPA were business related, not personal.
“Personally, as far as I’m concerned, this is not a personal thing,” Crabtree said. “I know there have been a lot of comments and there’s been a certain amount of hostility, mostly from the executive director (Kester) because he feels that everything that we’ve done over the last couple of years has been an attack on him. That’s completely untrue.
“… From my own perspective, we’ve always wanted the Port Authority to succeed. We still want the Port Authority to succeed. But we’re still wondering how we’re going to account for that $2.1 million cut in revenue. That’s an annual cut. That’s a serious problem we’ve been looking at. To this point, there still hasn’t been a permanent solution. That’s the reason why we haven’t committed anything to the Port Authority this year.”
After Crabtree’s comments, Sayre spoke regarding the statements from Davis and Crabtree.
“A couple of things that I would like to say. What’s happened in the last month, I’ve seen nothing about funding,” Sayre said. “The $2.1 million, there will be 1/4 of that this year. That’s just $500,000, approximately. I haven’t checked the increase in sales tax revenue in a couple of months, but last I checked, it was around $350,000. As that continues to build, the balance at the end of the year is not going to be a whole lot different.
“Commissioner Davis has come to several of our meetings. He has said, ‘Kathy and I are with you, we are going to fund you. Hang in there with us. We’re going to give you something as soon as we find out.’ So, some of this funding stuff doesn’t ring true to me anymore.”
Davis responded to Sayre’s claims of funding at the end.
“The sales tax revenue isn’t going to put a dent in our opioid epidemic crisis,” Davis said. “We have taken a $900,000 swing in our share.”
The $900,000 swing Davis was referring to was regarding the sheriff’s budget. Due to the jail being over crowded, the county can no longer take out of county inmates, which provide a source of revenue from those other counties.
The second item Sayre mentioned was SOPA’s accomplishments as well as Kester’s accomplishments.
” … There are probably 10-12 business out there that have been helped,” Sayre said. ” … It’s documented that over the last three years there were 971 jobs that were helped created, retained or restarted. If you add in the 60 that are going to be up at the DOW chemical, it’s a 1,031. And that’s probably going to grow. That’s probably going to go to a couple of 100, maybe even more, because more companies may come in off of that. You’ve go to factor in Altivia, that was a closed plant. A 100 people lost their jobs, good paying jobs.”
Sayre admitted that one of the criticisms he has heard in the past and can’t argue with, is the fact that no major industrial organizations have made their way to the county.
“I understand that and I understand the criticism of that,” Sayre said. “But you can’t overlook what we saved, what was restarted — you can’t overlook that. That’s 1,000 jobs that we didn’t have in this county.”
Sayre went on to say that SOPA will be judged on the success or the failures, but he believes their successes out weight any failures.
As far as Kester, Sayre said he will be remembered as a person that truly cared about his community and a person who did his best.
As far as the relationship between SOPA and the Commissioners, Sayre said everyone needs to be focused on what’s best for the community.
“Until the politics, egos and the jealousies go away, this county will never, ever reach its full potential,” Sayre said. “I don’t care if your democrats or republicans, throw that away. It’s us, this is our county. This is where we live
”… The community is depending on us. They are depending on the Commissioners to do the right thing. They are depending on this board to do the right thing. I think we did a lot of good things. We don’t have the kind of authority now. We are reduced to a bonding agency and maybe pass land through, and that’s it. We can’t go out and help create jobs anymore. We can’t do it and that makes me sad because I thought we had done a good job.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone