Members of a local redevelopment group who have been working to renovate the former 1884 courthouse are asking for the county prosecutor to take legal action to halt demolition of the building - or they will.
After two commissioners made a decision Thursday morning to accept a bid for demolition, David Carroll, legal aid for the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group, sent a letter to Seneca County Prosecutor Derek DeVine in which the group requested the decision be overturned, citing a misappropriation of public funds under Ohio Revised Code 309.12.
Under 309.12, the prosecuting attorney may bring civil action against elected officials to restrain an action. The letter argues actions taken by commissioners to demolish the building are not in accordance with the county's obligation under state law to provide adequate space for the courts.
In the letter, Carroll wrote his clients "demand" DeVine mandate commissioners to act upon the obligation of the law and uphold a decision made Aug. 25, 2010, to renovate the 1884 courthouse.
Carroll wrote that unless action is taken by noon Monday, his clients in Seneca County will file a taxpayer suit against the commissioners under ORC 309.13.
A call placed to Franklin Conaway, president of the redevelopment group, was not returned Friday evening.
DeVine responded with an email Friday. In part, it states:
"I find your arguments and assertions for undertaking a legal action pursuant to RC 309.12 inappropriate and disingenuous. Your strategy of more litigation is unfortunately predictable.
"RC 309.12 allows for this county official to seek judicial protection of the county from illegal, fraudulent, or corrupt actions. You have not raised such issues in your letters. Instead you raise issues of prudence, wisdom, and insight. Those issues are very important; so important in fact that they are reserved for the citizens of Seneca County to vote on at elections.
"I will vigorously defend Seneca County against your lawsuit."
DeVine sent Seneca County commissioners copies of Carroll's letter Thursday. In phone conversations Friday afternoon, commissioners said they awaited DeVine's comments, but offered some opinion.
"It's unfortunate that this would happen, but there are some people who are very passionate about saving the courthouse," said Board President Dave Sauber.
"The redevelopment group has decided to manipulate those efforts to aid in the public/private partnership to renovate the courthouse to now stop us from what we have to do, which is to remove the former 1884 courthouse," Commissioner Ben Nutter said.
"I understand people advocating for their issue, and I'm all for that. But when they go and file a lawsuit, that seems a little childish to me," Commissioner Jeff Wagner said.
Nutter and Wagner cast affirmative votes Thursday afternoon to accept a bid of $373,000 from B&B Wrecking of Cleveland for the demolition/salvage of the structure, as recommended by engineering firm MKC Associates. The courthouse has been closed since 2004.