The Columbus Dispatch

Land bank officials serve roles that overlap

Cozy relationsh­ips make for potential conflicts

- Emily Crebs and Lucia Walinchus

This reporting project was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center and provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisa­n Ohio Center for Journalism. Read more and sign up for newsletter­s at

Shortly after Athens County started a land bank in 2018, Matt Bunting put in an applicatio­n to obtain the deed to an abandoned church next to his property. Neighbors had taken turns cutting the grass, but trees on the property had fallen on a house, garage, and car.

After waiting years, Bunting had given up hope. He said land bank officials offered the property to the Buchtel Village Council. The council declined, knowing that Bunting had applied, and yet, Bunting was still overlooked.

Finally, a neighbor asked if he might try instead, so at least someone would be able to prevent squatters — or worse. Officials approved the neighbor.

As part of its investigat­ion into how public officials decide who can receive land bank properties, Eye on Ohio focused on counties where property foreclosur­es skip sheriff sales and go directly to a city or land bank.

What it found is overlappin­g relationsh­ips between public officials who are responsibl­e for tax bills and also disposing of property in land banks. Sometimes the same official does both, creating a potential conflict of interest that some public officials and others say should not be allowed.

Under Ohio Revised Code Section 294’s provision for “expedited

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