Tuesday, September 10th, 2019
Celina to sue bank
Bryson Trust at center of dispute
By William Kincaid
CELINA - City officials intend to sue First Financial Bank to address concerns about its management of the Bryson Trust Fund and seek to have the trust merged into a public charity and then terminated.
The charitable Bryson Trust has been the source of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years to improve the city's parks. Officials now believe First Financial Bank has failed to fulfill its duties as trustee of the multimillion-dollar Bryson Trust Fund, according to an ordinance introduced at city council's regular meeting on Monday night.
Councilors came out of a roughly 30-minute, behind-closed-doors executive session before unanimously passing an ordinance authorizing city law director George Moore to file a lawsuit in Mercer County Probate Court against First Financial Bank as trustee of the Bryson Trust and/or in First Financial Bank's corporate capacity.
The legislation was approved after councilors suspended the rules requiring three public readings.
Officials were tightlipped about the legislation and refrained from discussing the matter. Mayor Jeff Hazel said he cannot comment further on the legislation nor the city's plan to sue First Financial Bank of Cincinnati.
"Once the complaint is filed, legal counsel will issue a statement," Moore said after the meeting, adding that the ordinance speaks for itself.
The ordinance states that "First Financial Bank owes the city an unwavering duty of good faith, fair dealing, loyalty, and owes the city timely responses to inquiries, diligence, the duty to provide the city with material information it has requested to protect its interests, and the duty to properly invest and diversify the fund pursuant to the Ohio Prudent Investor Act and the duty to comply with the Ohio Trust Code and Ohio law."
Officials desire to authorize legal counsel to initiate litigation to enforce its legal/equitable rights under the Bryson Trust to address concerns regarding "the management/administration of the Trust, as well as to request that the Trust be merged into a public charity and then terminate the Trust," according to the legislation.
"The city believes that the city's proposed resolution is consistent with the express wishes of Testator Ed L. Bryson, as well as prior orders of the Mercer County Probate Court issued during the administration of the Bryson Trust."
Hazel in August 2018 had noted that management of the fund had been transferred from First Financial Bank's Celina branch to its Cincinnati offices, expressing alarm about not having someone locally involved with the trust.
"I think you've heard council express their concern about not having somebody local in the community" on the Bryson Trust Fund board, Hazel had said. "Ed Bryson left the money here, not somewhere else. Obviously banking regulations have changed over the last 60 years."
Bryson Trust Fund officers review city leaders' funding requests with Mercer County Probate Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter having final say.
Prominent city attorney Ed Bryson, upon his death on Jan. 11, 1950, left part of his estate to what was then the Commercial Bank of Celina "for the use and benefit of the public playgrounds in Mercelina Park, Celina, Ohio, or to assist in the construction of a public swimming pool by said city." Through court approval, the intent of Bryson's charity was expanded to include all city recreational facilities.
The fund has for decades financed millions of dollars in projects such as the Bryson Pool, shelter houses, park restrooms and other recreational improvements.