2007-10-06 / Editorials & Letters

More Letters: Wells calls for Cookston's resignation, removal

Editor:

All public officials in Ohio, even those appointed at the village level, are subject to the Ohio Ethics Law. Ohio Revised Code 102.03 (E) states: "No public officialor employee shall solicit or accept anything of value that is of such a character as to manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public officialor employee with respect to that person's duties."

Karen Cookston is a public officialas the chair of the Buckeye Lake Planning and Zoning Commission. She was appointed to that position in January 2006. She's also a board member and former president of the Cranberry Bay Homeowners Association (CBHA), formerly the Bounds Homeowners Association.

After losing a bid for another term as CBHA president, she aggressively pursued and successfully retained her CBHA position as liaison to the Bounds family concerning the sale of the farm to a developer and the gift of land to the association. Normally this would be the job of the new president. Years ago, Margaret Bounds had promised that the strip of land along the waterfront would be gifted to the homeowners association upon the sale of the Bounds farm. This property has a recorded easement to access our docks. The promise was honored earlier this year.

The Bounds farm was sold last November. The Planning Commission approved the preliminary construction plans on Cookston's motion on Feb. 20, 2007. The deed transferring the easement property to CBHA was recorded on 3/23/07. Another land transfer occurred at about the same time to Karen Cookston and she didn't pay a dime for it.

A Quit Claim Deed, dated 2/23/07 and recorded on 3/23/07, transferred a portion of two platted but undeveloped streets, East Street and Dockside Drive, from the Bounds family to Karen Cookston. This FREE real estate GIVEN to Cookston measures about 10,968 sq. ft. in total and is equivalent to about three lots. The East Street portion is 10 feet wide and about 600 feet long. The Dockside Drive portion is 25 feet wide and about 200 feet long.

An affidavit, signed by one of the Bounds' attorneys states that "The grantors do not wish to retain any real estate at or near Buckeye Lake, Ohio. After the conveyance to Hunts Landing LLC and to Cranberry Bay Homeowners Association, Inc., there remained certain parts of East Street and Dockside Drive (formerly Highland Street) that neither Hunts Landing LLC nor the Cranberry Bay Homeowners Association, Inc, desired. Karen S. Cookston, grantee in the within deed, was able and willing to accept said portions of East Street and Dockside Drive as the strips of land conveyed by the within deed were in the proximity of her personal residence and improved access."

The affidavit also states, "No money or other valuable and tangible consideration readily convertible into money is paid or to be paid for the real estate described and the transaction is not a gift. The purpose of the transaction is solely to rid the grantors of excess land which they do not desire and which the grantee is willing to accept."

The affidavit says CBHA did not "desire" the property. Says who? Who spoke for CBHA? There is no mention in CBHA minutes of this discussion. Certainly, the membership of CBHA was never given the opportunity to discuss or vote on whether or not we should accept the gift of these two streets. I wonder if any or how many of the board members were even aware of this transaction?

Why wasn't this land transferred to the association and then SOLD to Cookston or other adjoining property owners? Those funds could have been used to pay for CBHA expenses. Instead, the board has imposed hefty administrative fees on each dock and created new dock agreements that some of us believe diminish our property value. These actions by CBHA prompted a lawsuit filed by some of the property owners.

During a May 19, 2007 CBHA General Meeting, Cookston gave a lengthy and DETAILED presentation about the farm sale. Other board members talked about the new fees and documents. didn't hear ONE WORD from ANYONE to the general membership about the land transfer to Cookston.

I've said publicly for several years that Cookston's appointed position with the village represents a huge conflictof interest. Finally, the evidence is available in black and white on the Licking County website for all to see. Some of us have asked the question, "How can Karen Cookston represent the best interest of the homeowners who are adjacent to this now approved development and at the same time represent the best interest of the village?" Well, just whose interest was she representing?

According to the officialminutes of CBHA and the Buckeye Lake Planning and Zoning Commission, Cookston made no attempt to disclose to either group her intention to accept any real estate without paying for it.

CBHA's next general membership meeting is Saturday, October 6 at the Buckeye Lake Eagles with registration at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting beginning at 10 a.m. Members should call for Cookston's removal as a trustee. We should also ask the board members about what knowledge, if any, they had of this undisclosed transaction.

Why didn't Cookston publicly disclose this? She had plenty of opportunities to tell us about it. She didn't tell the CBHA membership. There's no record of her disclosing it to the Planning and Zoning

Commission or village council. Based on CBHA minutes, it appears that she didn't disclose it to the CBHA Board.

Cookston should immediately resign from the Buckeye Lake Planning and Zoning Commission. If she fails to promptly do so, village council should remove her. If Cookston and village council fail to take that responsible step, I will filea complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Peggy Wells Buckeye Lake

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