May 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Charity ball donations raise questions

Every year, area businesses and individuals donate to local nonprofits through the Medina County commissioner’s annual charity ball. This year, an ongoing contract negotiation and efforts to avoid a conflict of interest will keep one business from contributing to the event.

The discussion among commissioners became heated over whether to ask Envision, the operator of the county’s Central Processing Facility in Westfield Township, to donate to the event.

Envision’s contract with the county was set to expire in June. So far this year, the county has extended the contract twice, requested bids for the operation of the CPF three times and subsequently rejected bids twice. The county offered a contract to Envision last week, but it has yet to be signed.

The debate about charity donations began last month when Commissioner Sharon Ray sent a memo to Commissioner Pat
Geissman, requesting she not offer sponsorship opportunities to Envision or other companies bidding on the CPF.

Geissman said she never planned to ask for donations because a contract had not been finalized.

“That’s just common sense,” she said Monday. However, she said she originally planned to ask for a donation from Envision if a contract was signed.

“It would be unfortunate for our designated charities to lose this generous sponsorship,” Geissman wrote in a reply to Ray’s memo last month.

Envision has operated the CPF, which processes the county’s trash, for 16 years. Geissman said the company has donated to the charity ball for 10 years and gave $1,500 last year.

However, Ray and Commissioner Steve Hambley asked Geissman not to send an invitation to the company, even if a contract were finalized. They each sent Geissman a memo on Nov. 18 outlining their opinions.

“Whether you accept a donation right before the contract is awarded or right after the contract is awarded makes no difference — an appearance of impropriety would be created. … I am sure you will agree with me, no donation is worth jeopardizing the integrity of the Board of Medina County Commissioners,” Ray wrote.

Hambley wrote the acceptance of a donation would appear “to be a quid pro quo arrangement.”

He said he also wrote a memo last week to the commissioners’ office staff and to the charity ball committee, asking them to not send out a donation request letter to Envision.

Commissioners consulted Medina County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Thorne, who said they had the right to choose whether to solicit donations after a contract is settled.

The contract for the CPF is worth about $26.5 million over five years.

“It doesn’t look good. This is a significant contract. There is a five-year commitment. There is a lot of money involved,” Ray
said Monday.

Geissman said she no longer intends to send a request to Envision. However, she said she would have preferred in-person conversations with her fellow commissioners on the issue instead of them sending memos to her and other staff.

“If those two would just speak to me and ask; that’s all they had to do is ask me,” she said.

Envision CEO Steven Viny did not return a phone message seeking comment Monday.

Geissman said she founded the annual charity ball 10 years ago as a way for the board to raise money for local nonprofits.

Every year, each commissioner chooses one or more charities he or she wishes to receive funding. Geissman said the event has raised more than $200,000 for charities.

This year’s event is Jan. 16 and will raise money for the American Red Cross of Medina County, Medina Creative Housing, Project: LEARN, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Medina County and the Society for Handicapped Citizens of Medina County.

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or