Concerned residents of the Village of Yellow Springs held a community forum to better understand and discuss the merits of a proposed $1 million bond issue to support infrastructure for a business park on the edge of that storied Ohio town. The proposed “Center for Business and Education” has been in the works for more than a decade, and has drawn public funding for private development through a non-official community development corporation with strong ties to the village government and a small group of local business interests. A group of residents have aligned themselves to fight public funding for the project through a ballot referendum should a bond issue be passed. The group is concerned that a small number of well-connected residents stand to profit from the development while the public assumes the up front cost risks as debt.
About 50 village residents gathered to hear local commercial real estate professionals give a overall negative forecast for the profitability of the project. The forum also featured the distribution of previously unpublished public records detailing for the first time the board membership history of the Yellow Springs – Miami Township Community Improvement Corporation( commonly called “Community Resources”) as well as part of its recent financial history. “Community Resources” is neither chartered as an official community improvement corporation nor is it bound by the Ohio laws governing such endeavors. Community Resources is a non-profit chartered in Ohio but does not do business under that name.
Community Resources was founded in 1998, and in 2003 borrowed $300,000 from the Village of Yellow Springs revolving loan fund to purchase 44 acres of land on the edge of town. The loan, which severely depleted the village's revolving loan fund, was made at zero interest and Community Resources has made no effort repay the loan even in part. Community Resources then transferred the land to a subsidiary non-profit called Education Village, that then gave a portion of the land at no cost to Antioch University for the construction of a new campus for what is now Antioch University Midwest. Glenn Watts, then Vice-Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer of Antioch University, was one of the incorporating founders of Community Resources. Michael Fishbien was a board member of Community resources from 2009 through at least 2011. Fishbein was hired as president of Antioch University Midwest in March of 2009 and served until 2012, although he remained in that position until the summer of 2013 with a provost handling day to day operations.
Community Resources is seeking additional funds from the Village to cover costs that some of its board members claim they are personally out of pocket on and to move forward with a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation for roads, water and sewage services to the rest of the land. The Free Press readings of available tax returns for both Community Resources and Education Village found no comparable expenses. The total cash budget for Community Resources was less than $10,000 per year and the non-profit has no paid employees.
Two current Village Council members, Marianne McQueen and Gerald Simms served on the board of Community Resources as recently as 2011. Past Village Council member Katheryn Van Der Heiden and past Village council president Judith Hempfling also served on Community Resource's board. Another Village employee, economic development coordinator Sarah Wildman, also served on the board.
The actual deed for the land parcel in question contains a covenant which names a board of architects that has final say over all construction plans on the property. That architectural board contains a single member, Ted Donnell. Donnell is married to the current village council president Karen Wintrow. Wintrow also serves as the executive director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. Another former board member, Chris Mucher, is Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine's brother in law.
This development plan gives every appearance of public money used for private profit for a few well connected people in business and government backed by public risk and public debt. It also raises the issue of conflicts of interests by public officials. According to Yellow Springs residents opposed to the project, this development is neither backed by a public mandate nor subject to public scrutiny. The Free Press will continue to cover this issue.