Shutter Sunshine; hold officials accountable

Look at the 16 faces here. All have been elected or appointed as stewards for Warren taxpayers.

Their top priority this week should be the dissolution of the nonprofit agency Sunshine of Warren-Trumbull Area Inc. Any of the 16 that do not work toward that goal should resign from office immediately.

Sunshine was created in the early 1990s to develop ”decent housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income persons in Trumbull County.” It has since received millions of taxpayer dollars, much of it from the federal government passed through Director Michael Keys’ Community Development Department and disbursed by city Auditor David Griffing’s office.

Working side-by-side with Keys, Sunshine has squandered the money and failed in its mission.

One example of its egregious waste was highlighted in Friday’s Tribune Chronicle. Warren was awarded a $2 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant, including about $400,000 for housing rehabilitation.

The city used Sunshine for the rehabs. The agency managed to rehab just seven houses. All remain vacant. All of them combined are worth a little more than $100,000, according to the Trumbull County auditor’s office appraisals. Comparables show that the auditor’s appraisals are on target. Several local real estate agents concur.

In one case, Sunshine purchased a house at 194 Belmont for $27,150. It spent $72,000, more than $40 per square foot, rehabbing it. Sunshine is now asking $35,900 for the house. The auditor appraises it at $16,300. Several real estate agents have said the house would likely fetch little more than $20,000.

The real travesty is that there is an effort under way to stabilize Warren one neighborhood at a time. This can be accomplished through strategic demolition of condemned houses and rehabilitation of salvageable homes beginning with the Historic Perkins Neighborhood and bleeding into the Garden District. Sunshine could have jump-started the effort by purchasing and rehabbing 15 to 20 homes in those neighborhoods with the same amount of money. Nearly a dozen people have done this already.

By outrageously overspending, and by not targeting a geographical area, Sunshine and the city have irritated the good people focused on rebuilding Warren’s neighborhoods. The Warren Neighborhood Leadership Council, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, gregg’s gardens and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative all had choice words about how the NSP grant was handled.

If Warren loses these groups, and their financial backers such as the Raymond John Wean Foundation and Trumbull 100, the city is sunk.

That’s why action this week, by the people seen atop this editorial, must be immediate and decisive.

Sunshine previously came under fire when it was discovered that it owed more than $150,000 in back taxes, including delinquencies on houses that it was selling through land contracts. The prospective home owners made monthly land contract payments, including property taxes, to Sunshine. But Sunshine did not forward the tax payments to the county treasurer who threatened foreclosure.

Despite public outcry for scrutiny, including calls for a performance audit conducted by Ohio Auditor David Yost, Sunshine Executive Director Anthony Iannucci Jr. took the stance that the agency is private and not subject to Ohio’s open records laws. Law Director Greg Hicks concurred.

Like many others seen here, Hicks continues to defend the indefensible.

County commissioners insist that since government funds Sunshine, the agency is public. Commissioners asked the city to hire Yost to conduct the performance audit. Mayor Doug Franklin and Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa, however, defended Sunshine and resisted the audit.

Like many others seen here, Franklin and Cantalamessa have looked the other way for far too long.

Sunshine has turned into a rogue agency. Iannucci has obstinately refused transparency. Sunshine’s board of directors – Mel Milliron, Gary Shaffer, Gary Mayers and Kathy Zapka – have also snubbed calls for accountability.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has been asked to investigate. Attorney General Office policy is to not disclose whether it has granted such a request, but an investigation could include the board members who hold a fiduciary responsibility.

The City Council members pictured here may not have the authority to dissolve Sunshine directly, but they control purse strings like the $2 million NSP grant and millions of dollars in unpaid loans to Sunshine.

This agency absolutely needs shut down. It’s time to place its director and board members under scrutiny. Yost, DeWine and Secretary of State John Husted, who oversees nonprofit corporations, should be invited to investigate.

Anybody pictured here who fails to get this done does not deserve to work for Warren taxpayers.