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Conneaut Lake Park board turns over names of trustees to AG's office

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

Conneaut Lake Park Board of Trustees denied wrongdoing on Tuesday as the state Attorney General's Office seeks the board's ouster amid ongoing financial difficulties at the historic amusement resort.

“We believe we've done the best we could do with the circumstances dealt to us and the day-to-day operational circumstances that we face,” board Chairman Jack Moyers said.

The nonprofit board turned over a list of 18 current and former trustees appointed to oversee the park's finances since 2007 during a brief status conference before Crawford County Judge Anthony Vardaro. The judge ordered trustees to relinquish financial documents that the attorney general wants to examine.

Park trustees said they would comply within 30 days.

Allowing the attorney general's office to examine the records would put the agency in “the best position to see if there's anything they really want to pursue here,” Vardaro said.

The attorney general is demanding Vardaro remove and reorganize the board, saying members failed to insure two historic park buildings lost in fires and fell $900,000 behind in paying property taxes.

Deputy Attorney General Gene J. Herne said trustees have turned over some documents, including loss and profit statements, and most of board meeting minutes and insurance records. He said trustees didn't list names in meeting minutes, leading the agency to ask for a complete accounting of board members.

Trustees said there was no intent to hide names, though they were removed from the park's website two or three years ago when the website was redesigned.

Trustees issued a statement saying, in part, that they inherited a financial mess.

“Before this sitting board was even appointed, it was dealt a tough hand: a 10-year span of unpaid property taxes, a closed park, a mountain of debt, little money in the bank, no credit, a lengthy list of unpaid bills, and a water company that required mandatory upgrades,” they said.

The board said it is working to pay debts, including sewer, sales tax and mortgage. “In short, the board anticipates being vindicated once the facts, the truth, are revealed.”

Vardaro said the next conference would be sometime in January, to gauge progress.

Greg Sutterlin had hoped changes would result from Tuesday's court hearing. Sutterlin is co-owner of Park Restoration LLC, operator of the Beach Club, which was destroyed Aug. 1 along with the Dockside banquet hall by a fire of undetermined cause.

Sutterlin has accused trustees of interfering with his company's plans to rebuild.

“We were hoping, of course, the trustees would've resigned today,” he said.

Founded as Exposition Park in 1892, the approximately 200 acres located two hours northwest of Pittsburgh was renamed in 1920 for Conneaut Lake — the state's largest natural glacier lake. The amusement park is perhaps best known for its wooden roller coaster, the Blue Streak, which opened in 1938 and was restored a few years ago.

Bill Vidonic is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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