CLEVELAND — A member of Cleveland City Council will introduce a resolution calling for FirstEnergy to relinquish the naming rights to the stadium in downtown Cleveland.
Councilman Brian Kazy cites the scandal involving FirstEnergy and its involvement in a $60 million bribery scheme created to give a $1 billion bailout for its two nuclear plants as the reason for the resolution. The resolution is scheduled to be introduced at Monday's city council meeting.
"Simply, I don’t believe that the municipally-owned stadium that the Cleveland Browns play in should bear the name of this tainted company. The sign, seen as people enter Cleveland, gives the impression that they represent the city. This is false," Kazy wrote in a release announcing his resolution.
In 2013, the Browns and FirstEnergy agreed to a 17-year, $102 million deal for naming rights of the stadium. From 1999 through 2012, the facility was known as Cleveland Browns Stadium when the Lerner family owned the team.
"The resolution I am sponsoring is self-explanatory," Kazy adds. "First Energy spent nearly $61 million to get Ohio HB 6 passed to secure a $1.3 billion dollar bailout by ratepayers for its nuclear power plants. A federal investigation led to felony charges in connection to the bribery scheme to influence state legislators to pass the legislation."
In a 2021 agreement with the Justice Department, FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $230 million penalty after admitting it funneled $60 million into a nonprofit secretly controlled by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to pass House Bill 6. HB6 bailed out the Perry and Davis Besse nuclear power plants and was worth an estimated $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy. Householder, four associates and a dark money group were indicted on racketeering charges. Householder has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in federal court.
FirstEnergy also said it paid a $4.3 million bribe to Sam Randazzo, who served as Ohio's PUCO chairman. He resigned in November 2020, shortly after FBI agents raided his condominium and left with boxes of material. Randazzo has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
“This Council believes that First Energy applied political pressure using phony citizen groups and paid out significant dollars to restrict or destroy Cleveland Public Power and to influence or control this Council,” the resolution notes. “That First Energy continues to market itself using the public’s taxpayer-funded stadium signifies its failure to fully acknowledge its criminal behavior and unintentionally implies community support for a criminal enterprise.”
3News reached out to FirstEnergy for a reaction to the resolution. They provided the following statement: "FirstEnergy has a longstanding commitment to supporting communities through sponsorship of civic, athletic and arts organizations. We have taken swift action to address events that have occurred in recent years and to ensure a culture of strong ethics, integrity and accountability at the company. We look forward to continuing as a valued partner with all the communities in which we live and work."
Last fall, two local members of the Ohio House of Representatives urged Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, along with then-Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, to change the name of the stadium. Reps. Jeffrey A. Crossman (D-Parma) and Kent Smith (D-Euclid) sent the Haslams and Jackson a letter detailing their concerns with the continued promotion of FirstEnergy Corp. by the Cleveland Browns and the City of Cleveland.
“If someone associated with the Cleveland Browns went out and robbed a bank, they would be cut or fired immediately. FirstEnergy essentially went out and robbed Ohioans of millions of dollars,” said Rep. Crossman. “Why are the Browns pretending that FirstEnergy is a good corporate citizen and continuing to promote them?”
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