CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Cleveland City Council resolution requires FirstEnergy to relinquish its naming rights to the Cleveland Browns’ public football stadium.
16th District Councilman Brian Kazy, chairman of the committee that oversees public power in Cleveland, is the sole sponsor of the resolution, which will be presented to the city council on Monday. Council resolutions are not binding. If the council does approve it, the action would be largely symbolic, amounting to a statement to the Akron-based utility, rather than legislation forcing the removal of FirstEnergy’s name from stadiums.
As justification for the move, Kazy’s legislation cited public funding for stadiums and companies, as well as the ongoing FirstEnergy bribery scandal surrounding House Bill 6, and accuses FirstEnergy of funding a dark-money syndicate trying to undermine the CPP in 2019, its city owned competitors.
“[T]Hats FirstEnergy’s continued use of the public’s taxpayer-funded stadium to market itself demonstrates its failure to adequately acknowledge its criminal conduct and inadvertently implies community support for criminal enterprise,” the resolution reads.
“Simply put, I don’t think the municipal stadium, home to the Cleveland Browns, should be named after this tainted company,” Qazi said in a statement. When people enter Cleveland, the sign gives the impression that they Represents the city. It’s fake.”
The legislation stipulates that FirstEnergy paid a reported $107 million in 2013 to secure the naming rights for what is now known as FirstEnergy Stadium.
It is unclear whether the measure will garner enough parliamentary support to pass. Plain Dealer/cleveland.com has asked Kazy and Board Chair Blaine Griffin about the Board’s willingness to approve the resolution.
FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young did not say whether the company would consider removing its name from the stadium, but she issued the following statement to The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com:
“FirstEnergy has a long history of supporting communities by sponsoring civic, sports and arts organizations. We have acted swiftly to respond to the events of recent years and to ensure a culture of ethics, integrity and accountability in the company. We look forward to continuing to live as we and an important partner in all the communities where we work.”
A massive corruption scandal involving FirstEnergy came to light in 2020. Federal investigators say FirstEnergy paid $60 million in bribes through dark money syndicate to help former Ohio House Speaker Larry Household pass HB 6, among other benefits, the Akron-based utility pays taxes A $1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary at the time. State lawmakers repealed the bailout last year.
FirstEnergy also admitted to federal authorities that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to Sam Randazzo, the former chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, to push for changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the company.
Household and Randazzo have each denied any wrongdoing, although Household’s three co-defendants have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scandal.
In addition, tax filings and federal court filings link FirstEnergy’s 2019 funds to consumer anti-fraud charges, a group that calls itself an advocate for Cleveland utility customers by challenging the rates. But critics say the group is a vehicle for FirstEnergy to try to topple the CPP.
The city council launched an investigation into the efforts in August 2020 and said in early 2021 that FirstEnergy may be subpoenaed to investigate black money operations against CPP. Since then, however, the council’s investigations appear to have dried up and no further action has been taken.