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Suit filed against LEDC, director

Attorneys for the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation and McGinnis, Inc. took their disagreement before a visiting judge yesterday.

Special Judge Everett Burton, assigned by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer to hear the case, said he would rule on the McGinnis lawsuit, but advised both sides not to expect a ruling very soon.

McGinnis, Inc. is suing the LEDC and its executive director, Patricia Clonch, claiming Clonch in specific and the organization as a whole leased land at The Point industrial park to a competitor, Superior Marine, without ever considering other parties that had an interest in the property and who might have been willing to pay more for it.

Cincinnati attorney Glen Whitaker, representing McGinnis, told Burton the LEDC broke state law by allowing Clonch and a small executive board that has no elected officials to make key decisions on LEDC contracts and money.

Whitaker said Clonch conducts most of the business for the LEDC, and the executive board rubber stamps her decisions. The board of trustees, which does includes a state-required two-fifths make up of elected officials, is often not told until after the fact what agreements Clonch and the executive board has made, the suit alleges.

"They're not the real governing body," Whitaker said of the board of trustees.

By state law, such a corporation as the LEDC, which receives taxpayers money and is responsible for economic development for the county, must have elected representation.

Whitaker told Burton that LEDC acts are shrouded in secrecy and

violate state laws. Further, he said, many decisions, such as the Superior Marine lease, are a waste of taxpayer's money since that entity has yet to use the industrial park property to create jobs and spur economic development.

But Robert Dever, attorney for the LEDC, argued such decisions are supposed to be made in secret to protect the interests of the corporation and the entities that it might do business with.

Dever disagreed the board of trustees is kept in the dark and has no say about LEDC matters until after Clonch makes a decision and executes an agreement.

Dever also argued that the suit, seeking injunctive relief, has no merit because McGinnis Inc. has not suffered financially because of the Superior Marine agreement.

"Ask what damages are suffered," Dever said. "There are none."

Dever further argued that Clonch should not have been sued by McGinnis, Inc.

"It's one thing for them to sue the LEDC -- this is something we all come to expect from time to time," Dever said. "But to sue her personally is quite another."

Burton questioned why Whitaker had not included Superior Marine along with the LEDC and Clonch in the lawsuit.

"Why are they not a party to this?" Burton questioned Whitaker. "Do you think the suit is valid without them?"

"I believe so," Whitaker replied. "We don't oppose Superior Marine. It's the action we oppose."

In the suit, McGinnis is seeking to have the lease declared invalid and also seeks to require the LEDC to follow state laws on proper procedure in the future. Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune