Ravenna reacts to charges against former mayor

Former Ravenna mayor Paul H. Jones has been sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for tax and mail fraud related to activity during his time in office.

Jones hid connections between his family’s business, PJ Jones Lawn Mowing Service, and the city’s Neighborhood Development Services and failed to report income the business made by working for the NDS.

Jones now also faces state charges related to the crimes.

The small-town community of Ravenna seems split on the issue, with personal connections at odds with the desire for honest government.

Portage County Senior Center

Grumbles and derisive snorts accompanied the mention of former Ravenna mayor Paul H. Jones.

Aside from the lying and cheating, what really irks these seniors is that Jones was sentenced to serve time in a Florida prison.

Mary Ellen Seni, a volunteer at the center, looked up from rolling plasticware in napkins when she heard Jones’s name.

“He should serve his prison term right where he made the mess,” Seni said.

Paul Hayward and Rosemary Smith agreed with Seni. Both said they come to the senior center just about every day. They took a break from playing cards to discuss the former mayor.

“Back about 10 years ago, he (Jones) lied to me,” Paul said.

Hayward was out working in the yard when Jones stopped to talk with him. Jones was running for mayor at the time. When Hayward asked if Jones would make the current mayor, Donald Kainrad, service director, Jones told him no. After Jones lied, Hayward said he stopped voting for him.

“He had Ravenna fooled,” Hayward said. “He and Nixon are about the same to me.”

Smith said she would run into the mayor outside of Ravenna and he would be in the company of different women. She didn’t agree with Jones using his family as an excuse to serve his time in Florida when he had been so rotten toward them.

Both recalled Jones’s DUI. Smith said Jones had a few drinks then went to pick up his son from the airport. When a cop pulled him over, Jones told him he was the mayor of Ravenna and the cop couldn’t give him a ticket.

Smith chuckled when she said the cop told Jones, “I don’t care who you are.” Jones had his license taken away, and Smith recalls seeing him walking downtown.

There’s no love lost between Jones and these seniors.

“He did so many bad things it far outweighs the good,” Smith said.

Guido’s Pizza

Quiet chatter and the soft clank of silverware filled the air of Guido’s Pizza Wednesday afternoon, and everyone from young children to longtime Ravenna residents seemed to ignore the ’80s pop songs contrasting with the traditional Italian decor.

“Since 1966,” boasts the deep green awning on the front of this Main Street restaurant. The walls, painted to look like old-country Italy, are covered in framed black and white photos. This place has been a part of this community for a while.

One employee declined to comment on Jones’ case, saying his family has interacted with Jones in the past. In a city like Ravenna, social lines are closely tied. A pair of older women also refused to comment, tightening their lips and shaking their heads.

One couple spoke candidly and strongly against Jones, as the three young girls with them quietly enjoyed their pre-meal bread. They called him a “crook” and a “jerk” who deserved more than he was sentenced, but refused to give their names.

The representatives of the 20-something generation seemed unsurprised by the whole situation. “It keeps happening more and more,” said Holly Hazelton, a 23-year-old former resident of Ravenna. Akron resident Mike Wilson made a similar comment, saying people today just expect politicians to be crooked.

The Cimmaron Lounge

On the corner of West Main Street in downtown Ravenna sits The Cimmaron Lounge. It looks like the typical neighborhood bar; even at 1 in the afternoon, half the barstools were occupied. A country cover version of Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” blared from the jukebox as patrons sipped their midday drinks.

Don Tackett, owner of the bar for 15 years, sat at the end, having a Budweiser with a friend. He was not hesitant at all to give his opinion about Jones.

“He used the system for his own benefit,” he said over the loud music. “He wasn’t the only one though – police have only touched the tip of the iceberg with this.”

Tackett said there’s no way Jones could have pulled everything off without help from others on the inside.

“They should all go to jail, not just Paul,” he said. “They’re all a bunch of crooks.”

Debbie Durham, the afternoon bartender, said she was around when Jones was mayor but doesn’t really know much about the situation, other than what she reads in the newspaper.

“All I know is, he did some things wrong, and for a long time he got away with it,” she said.

Not everything Jones did for the city of Ravenna was bad though, Tackett said.

“He did some good things for this town; not all his years were bad,” he said. “But Paul was a dictator, and he got what he wanted.”

The Deluxe Pastry Shop

The apple fritters are delectable and the cream sticks are famous among locals, but people don’t stop by downtown Ravenna’s quaint corner pasty shop just for the treats. A lot of political talk is exchanged here as well, and lately, two women working the day shift said it’s been all about former mayor Paul Jones.

One of the women, who asked not to be named, said most people in the town have their opinions about Jones and his character. “They either like him or they don’t,” she said.

She said their opinion about Jones seems to directly affect how they feel about the charges brought against him.

Lillian Stutler isn’t a Ravenna resident, but she has worked at the pastry store for two years and keeps up with the town talk.

“Since I don’t live here, I have an unbiased opinion,” Stutler said, “and what he did is wrong. If it was any one of us, we’d be thrown right in jail.”

Stutler feels a lot of politicians don’t suffer the consequences they deserve for their wrongdoing.

“He got a smack on the hand,” she said, “and it wasn’t enough.”

One of the shop’s regulars said she has known Jones for years. For that reason, she did not want to give her name. She did say, however, she doesn’t know why he didn’t pay his taxes, but he probably didn’t think anyone from the area would catch on and turn him in.

“It’s a small town,” she said. “Everyone knows each other here. People usually don’t go after each other like they would in a bigger city.”

Contact public affairs reporters Rachel Abbey, Tiffany Ciesicki, Elise Franco and Jennifer Mussig at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].