City manager signs option offer as principal for private company, not city

By SHELLEY TERRY

Staff Writer

sterry@starbeacon.com



ASHTABULA - - A councilwoman is questioning why the city manager had a real-estate contract drawn up and signed as an agent for a Conneaut company he owns, rather than as a city official.

City Manager Anthony Cantagallo said Wednesday he explained the situation at a council meeting in November.

"I was trying to put together 30-plus acres on Carpenter Road," he said. "I spoke to all the people on Carpenter road; I got everyone's permission but one, so I said to the school board, 'Let's option it.'"

Since the city couldn't option the property, Cantagallo said he would do it.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Betty Kist charges that Cantagallo used Harbor Realty to write a sales contract for property at 3125 Carpenter Road at $18,500 an acre without council's knowledge. Although the prospective sellers did not sign the document, the city manager stepped beyond his boundaries while searching for land for new elementary schools, she said during the Tuesday city council meeting.

"If the property is to accommodate new elementary schools in the city, it's the method in which it was handled that's wrong," Kist said. "If he's working for the city, why sign it with the name of a company, R.G. LLC (Cantagallo's company)? And why use a Realtor? We have an attorney to draw up contracts."

Council mulled the matter for several minutes before deciding to discuss it at February's work session.

Cantagallo said he was absent from the council meeting because he was at a meeting with the Ashtabula Area City School Board about the impending lawsuit, regarding the city's tax abatement program.

He had plenty to say on Wednesday about Kist's concerns.

"Anyone who's so stupid to think I'd do something like this and then go and sell it to the school board (for a profit) - - like no one would notice?" he said. "Does she think the school board would allow me to option it at nearly $19,000 (per acre) and then sell it back to them for $22,000 or something like that?"

At Tuesday's meeting, Kist distributed a copy of the contract with Harbor Realty to her fellow council members and publicly questioned Cantagallo's ethics, specifically the connection with R.G. LLC, 4432 Creek Road, Conneaut. Cantagallo said it's no secret R.G. is his.

Kist also said Cantagallo threatened to take the property by eminent domain when the property owners refused to sell. She said someone at church asked her about it.

"I don't think it's (morally) right," she said.

When asked for his opinion, City Solicitor Tom Simon said he didn't like Kist's characterization of Cantagallo having "threatened" to take land. Simon said council wanted the city manager to cooperate with the school board to gets schools in the city.

"Eminent domain is not being contemplated by the city," he said. "The school board would do that."

Simon did not return a phone call at his office Wednesday.

Kist said the potential seller's attorney is Chris Altier, who did not return a phone call Wednesday.

President Robert Beacom said the city manager explained what he was doing in November.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Julie Lattimer agreed.

Lattimer referred to the time Ward 1 Councilman Matthew Perry distributed a copy of a letter dated Nov. 3, from Cantagallo to other property owners on Carpenter Road. Perry said the letter indicated the city was looking to combine several properties in that neighborhood.

"I'm not inferring any wrongdoing, but the city manager is working without the council's knowledge," Perry said.

At that meeting, Cantagallo said he was doing just what Perry had requested during a previous council meeting: going to landowners to see what properties could be combined for a viable elementary school site.

"You thought the city should start optioning pieces of property so (that) council could go to the school board with 'this is what we have,'" Cantagallo said. "I did tell the school board we could combine land on Carpenter Road."

A few weeks earlier, at the Oct. 2 council meeting, Kist said she had to read the newspaper to find out what's going on in the schools. She was afraid if city officials didn't act quickly, they'd be left out of the loop and lose an opportunity - - as they did when Lakeside High School was built in Saybrook Township, instead of the city.

Council then decided to redirect the business of it's public utilities committee, chaired by Lattimer, to school issues, too.

Star Beacon Print Edition: 1/18/2007

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