Paula Durbin: City council needs to monitor Freese money


The Egbert M. Freese Foundation was founded by his son, Horace Freese, in memory of his father. The will of Horace Freese states that the monies are to be used for the benefit of the citizens of Galion, Ohio.

In 2004, when the city went into fiscal emergency, the Freese Foundation rescued the city by allowing the city to use Freese Foundation proceeds to ‘bail out’ the city from its financial problems. After the Freese Fund’s final payment on the city’s fiscal emergency debt, the annual Freese Fund payments were then available for city projects for the benefit of the citizens of Galion.

At that point, Mayor Tom O’Leary decided he wanted to have a collegiate baseball team in Galion. He began to set up a process to divert the city’s annual Freese monies to his baseball team project. Mayor O’Leary first formed a city Freese Committee to ‘decide’ how the annual Freese money was to be spent by the city. Mayor O’Leary and his safety-service director both held positions on this committee and Mayor O’Leary appointed the other committee members. So it should be no surprise the committee did whatever the mayor wanted. After manipulating everything to go his way, when it came time to actually vote, the mayor cleverly abstained from voting. And the whole time, the mayor was careful to try and make it look like he was “helping” the Galion schools since the Graders’ baseball field was conveniently also the high school baseball field.

In 2015, the Freese Committee gave approximately $235,736 for the renovations of the high school baseball field, with the Galion City Schools contributing $45,000 to this project and the Galion Boosters contributing $50,000. Meanwhile, the city (Mayor O’Leary) controlled all of the upgrades, including new lights (when existing lighting was already there and some people say that the lighting was previously paid for by the Freese Foundation and never used). The Galion Graders’ baseball field project spared no expense, including expensive engineering, new bleachers, special Washington dirt, and some 20 yards of cement that was used to fill in a sink hole at the field. The Graders field project also involved a lot of city labor, as city workers spent hundreds of hours at the Graders’ baseball field doing the mayor’s bidding.

In 2016, the Freese Committee gave even more funds, roughly $270,896 for improvements to the baseball field/football field that in actuality benefited the Galion Graders’ facilities. These improvements included a backstop for the baseball field and irrigation system (either for the football field or baseball. The invoice was not specific). Galion City Schools contributed $30,925. And a staggering $227,000 was spent for a press box. (Yes, the press box needed to be replaced. But $227,000?) This football field press box was an elaborate three-level press box designed to serve not only the football field, but also the baseball field.

Some Freese funds were used for the East Park splash park, and that did benefit average families in Galion. But how many citizens have benefited from the unnecessary and grandiose makeover of the high school baseball field? Mayor O’Leary used the Freese Fund money to benefit the Galion Graders Baseball team, plain and simple.

Ask yourself how many night games did the high school baseball team play in 2015 and 2016? Why were the city’s Freese Committee meetings not advertised during 2015, as prescribed by the Ohio Revised Code? Why did the city’s Freese Committee turn down a request from the Sarah Beegle Daycare Center for funds for a heating equipment problem?

To divert almost a half million dollars for grandiose plans that ultimately benefited a small special interest group (the Galion Graders baseball team) is unconscionable, when the city has parks without drinking fountains and without restroom facilities.

City council members need to hold the mayor accountable for using Freese funds for the benefit of the citizens, and not allow him to use Freese funds for his pet projecs. With the mayor’s manipulations, he has been able to use Freese funds like a checkbook for the Galion Graders Baseball team, when other more worthwhile projects could have been funded with the city’s Freese Foundation money.

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Paula Durbin

Guest columnist

 

Paula Durbin is a former treasurer for the City of Galion.