Meadville Tribune

January 27, 2014

State asks county court for more time to review Conneaut Lake Park records

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Crawford County Court of Common Pleas isn’t expected to take action on a state petition to oust the current volunteer board of the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park until at least mid-summer.

At a Monday status conference on the petition in county court before President Judge Anthony Vardaro, Senior Deputy Attorney General Gene Herne asked for additional time to review several years worth of the amusement park’s financial records.

At a hearing on Nov. 19, 2013, President Judge Anthony Vardaro ordered copies of all Trustees’ financial records dating back to June 29, 2007, be turned over to the state attorney general’s office within 30 days as well as all meeting minutes and copies of insurance policies not already provided to the attorney general’s office. June 29, 2007, is the date a county court-appointed board of trustees was put in place by Vardaro. The Trustees then select candidates whenever there are openings.

In October, the Office of Attorney General Kathleen Kane petitioned the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to oust the current Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, claiming the current board has failed to properly care for the amusement park. Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park is the corporation that oversees the public trust that owns the amusement park.

While Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park and the board’s attorney have been cooperative and the materials were turned over to the state accountants as ordered, more time is required to review the material, according to Herne.

“We are making progress and we are working amicably to try to get to the core issues in this matter,” Herne told Vardaro on Monday. “But at this point, I think it would be best if we set a five-month discovery schedule, your honor.”

Vardaro agreed to extend time for discovery in the case until June 30 with the possibility of a further extension of time — if both sides agree that it is necessary.

In issuing his court order, Vardaro noted the hearing on the state’s petition won’t take place until after the discovery is complete.

Following the hearing, Brian Pulito, the attorney for Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, said Trustees would continue to offer full cooperation.

“We want to resolve this quickly and amicably,” Pulito said. “We know the Trustees, at the end of the day, will be vindicated.”

Meanwhile, Conneaut Lake Park remains on track to be sold for overdue taxes this coming fall, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners reported last week. Commissioners said last Tuesday the county is projecting to have the park’s more than 40 parcels of land go on the annual tax upset sale list, scheduled for Sept. 26, unless a repayment plan is put forth or the more than $750,000 in overdue property taxes are paid.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, a total of $752,692.77 in overdue property taxes, interest and penalties was owed to the county, Summit and Sadsbury townships and Conneaut School District by Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park Inc. — dating back to 1997, according to figures from the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

The attorney general’s office petition wants the court to compel Trustees to show why the court should not: permanently remove all current Trustees and directors of Trustees; appoint a new board to govern the affairs of Trustees going forward; and order any other relief which the court deems appropriate.

The petition alleges, among other things, that: The board failed to take advantage of business opportunities that would have generated more revenue; that Trustees steered business away from Hotel Conneaut; and that these incidents and failure to insure Dreamland Ballroom and The Beach Club represent “serious breaches of their (Trustees) fiduciary duty.”

According to the petition, the damage inflicted on Conneaut Lake Park include failing to insure against the structural loss due to the fire at the Dreamland Ballroom on Feb. 1, 2008, and the fire at The Beach Club on Aug. 1, 2013 and failing to exploit opportunities and/or promote the best interests of the park.