Trumbull County commissioners are on the right track when they say they want to collect on a debt owed by the rogue nonprofit agency Sunshine of Warren Trumbull Area Inc. and that they want a state audit conducted on the organization.
Commissioners announced Thursday that they expect Sunshine to repay all of the money it owes the county for delinquent loans and real estate taxes.
Commissioners previously fired off a letter to Warren Mayor Doug Franklin asking for a state audit of Sunshine, citing a section of the Ohio Revised Code that makes it clear that much of Sunshine's records shall be open to the public.
Commissioner Frank Fuda followed up by saying, ''We talked to our planning commission, which works directly with them, and the prosecutor's office, and we can find no reason why we would forgive someone who owes all of that money.''
Franklin and other city officials, including embattled Law Director Greg Hicks, have protected Sunshine from transparency, siding with its director and board members.
Recently, information has trickled out that the county's stake in the game is greater than first thought. The county and city formed a consortium in the early 1990s that awarded Sunshine more than $1 million in loans with money the consortium received from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department's HOME program.
Sunshine stopped paying on the loan 10 years ago; Sunshine still owes $737,000; only recently has anybody from the city or county addressed the balance, and the city's Community Development Department director said he and the county's planning commission are considering forgiving the debt.
If repaid, the money would be used to place low- to moderate-income residents into homes and to stabilize low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Neighborhood stabilization is one of the county's most troubling problems.
More recently it was revealed that an additional $1.9 million, including $304,000 in notes payable to Trumbull County, went to Sunshine, which gave the money to for-profit companies, including one that purchased a housing complex in Conneaut.
While the $1.9 million represents about 8 percent of the investment, Sunshine Director Anthony Iannucci Jr. said recently that Sunshine owns only about .0051 percent of the corporations. And while Sunshine has nothing to show for its investment, the corporations continue to exist, presumably because they are earning a profit.
Commissioners joined the ranks of those who want answers. They should, considering so much of this money belongs to their constituents, so much of Sunshine's tentacles have reached outside of Warren to areas like Girard and Cortland, and some of the county money has left Trumbull.
In their letter requesting an audit, commissioners cited this passage from the Ohio Revised Code:
''Any governmental entity or agency and any nonprofit corporation or association ... that enters into a contract or other agreement with the federal government, a unit of state government, or a political subdivision or taxing unit of this state for the provision of services shall keep accurate and complete financial records of any moneys expended in relation to the performance of the services pursuant to such contract or agreement according to generally accepted accounting principles. Such contract or agreement and such financial records shall be deemed to be public records.''
But Iannucci and Sunshine's past and present board of directors - Mel Milliron, Gary Shaffer, Gary Mayers and Kathy Zapka - refuse to open their records. Hicks concurred that their records are private. As a result, serious questions continue to haunt the agency and public trust in the city and county governments erodes.
Perhaps a good way to look at the situation is through this question: Who does transparency hurt?
Transparency doesn't hurt the county residents whose property values have declined because they live near Sunshine homes that are vacant, dilapidated and in many cases condemned.
Transparency doesn't hurt taxpayers who paid for Sunshine to remodel homes and then paid to remodel them a second time because Sunshine doesn't evict reckless tenants.
Transparency doesn't hurt the Trumbull County taxpayers who must foot the bill for Sunshine and one of its for-profit subsidiaries, both of which are tax delinquent on nearly all of their properties.
The only answer we can come up with is that transparency hurts people who have something to hide.