Last month, Warren City Councilwoman Helen Rucker asked Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. Director Anthony Iannucci for a performance update on the city-supported organization.
Iannucci said W.R.A.P. has been involved in attracting new businesses into downtown. He then identified 11 businesses saying all but one came from outside of Warren. On the list was the Sunset Lounge.
Several days later the Tribune Chronicle reported details from an Ohio Department of Liquor Control inspection of Sunset that revealed potential illegal ownership by convicted felon LaShawn Ziegler and a potential connection to the nearby scene of what police term a ''major gun battle.'' Some Warren City Council members have been attempting to shut down the lounge because of what they say are too many police calls to the bar. Owning and operating a liquor establishment would be a violation of Ziegler's probation.
Then, in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, a man was murdered in the Sunset and, according to 911 calls, gunshots spilled into the streets.
Iannucci now says W.R.A.P. didn't really help Sunset open downtown. He said W.R.A.P.'s only involvement with the Sunset was that it granted the building owner permission to erect a sign and collected a fee for the sign permit.
This calls into question everything Iannucci claimed during Rucker's status call. Iannucci claimed that there have been more economic development projects happening in downtown Warren in the last two years than in the prior 10 years combined; there have been 14 developments in which W.R.A.P. had some involvement; W.R.A.P. has been contacted by a private business to develop a portion of the downtown peninsula; and W.R.A.P. assisted the 11 new businesses that include Sunset Lounge.
Iannucci might now say that he merely listed the businesses that opened in downtown and not ones that W.R.A.P. actually helped. But many in attendance, including council members, say the director led the audience to believe he was taking credit for playing a role in all the businesses opening.
Rucker should be applauded for conducting status calls to hold city officials, and those benefiting from taxpayer dollars, accountable, but if she and her colleagues accept everything at face value they're not really doing their jobs. Council members and Mayor Doug Franklin do not have to scratch much below the surface to discover that the W.R.A.P. list presented at Rucker's meeting is tenuous. It's enough to warrant a re-evaluation of funding.
They should also call on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to re-evaluate funding for Sunshine Inc., of which Iannucci is also the director.
Nearly two dozen Sunshine houses are either demolished, on demolition lists, condemned or soon to be condemned. Taxpayer dollars, used to purchase, build and rehabilitate Sunshine houses are also used to tear them down.
One of the properties is so bad that every spring a property manager places rat poison around a neighbor's home. That rat-infested house has been vacant for nine years and the subject of many complaints from neighbors. They don't understand why Sunshine, which has $7.5 million in assets according to IRS records, won't tear the house down.
Another Sunshine house was the scene of a law enforcement raid because of abused animals. A report in September pointed out that the house had no plumbing or gutters and is in generally poor condition.
Despite not making a rent payment since May, Sunshine continued to allow the tenants to reside there and in December officers had to raid it a second time for animal abuse. The house now has to be demolished.
It's time for city leaders to delve past the spin and take a good, hard look at W.R.A.P. and Sunshine.