||Artist loses in court
Lien to be placed on Stark property
BY JOHN HIGGINS
Beacon Journal staff writer
CANTON: Someone should alert GOJO Industries that the art project the company has commissioned for its headquarters in Akron was ordered removed from the artist's 3-acre property.
A Stark County Common Pleas Court judge ended a lengthy zoning battle yesterday by finding P.R. Miller in contempt of court. Judge Sara Lioi authorized Lawrence Township to ``abate the nuisance'' at Miller's expense.
The majority of that nuisance, however, is food-grade stainless steel -- some 20 tons by Miller's estimate -- which he has salvaged from GOJO over the last several years.
The company wants it back, in the form of a large public art installation that will demonstrate its commitment to industrial recycling, according to an Aug. 14 letter Miller received from company President Joe Kanfer.
``You will not cardboard container,'' Miller said after the hearing. ``These people are fanatical about recycling.''
Miller has stored the GOJO stuff, which includes old signs, machinery parts and large G, O, J and O letters on his property for years. He said Kanfer collects his artwork and chose him to create several sculptures from GOJO scrap.
Miller testified that the first phase of the project would take a year or two to complete. It will feature a fountain sculpted from a 12-foot-high spiraling metal augur rising from the basin remains of a salvaged soap mixing tank.
The use of the materials is not the issue, argued Sharon Miller, an assistant Stark County prosecutor who represented the township. (She is not related to the artist.)
She argued that Miller signed an agreement in 1999 promising that he would remove the items from his property, then didn't comply.
``This case is not about the fact that Mr. Miller states he's an artist,'' Lioi told a courtroom packed mostly with his fans.
``Being an artist is not a free pass to do anything you want.''
The township's assistant zoning inspector, Joan Skarl, said afterward that the removal will cost well over $15,000.
A lien will be placed on Miller's property, but the township will have to pay upfront and wait for reimbursement. The job will be open for bids.
Miller's attorney, Deborah L. Smith, said she will appeal and also will file a stay of execution stopping the township from proceeding with the cleanup.
``It is very much about art,'' Smith said. ``If we take away this man's crayons, he can't color anymore.''
Miller's wife, Cheryl Miller, was represented by attorney Shawn F. Kenney, who said he likely will appeal, too. He argued that Cheryl Miller had no control over her husband's property and should not be found in contempt.
The hearing yesterday frustrated both sides.
P.R. Miller and Smith sought to widen the scope by questioning the validity of the agreement he signed promising to clean up his property. Lioi kept the hearing narrowly focused on whether he had complied with court orders.
The hearing included a field trip to Miller's property on Leaver Road just north of Canal Fulton -- by his count, the 36th time in five years authorities have ``invaded'' his property during the dispute.
Most of the scrap in question cannot be seen from Leaver Road. In summer conditions, Miller's immediate neighbors either have a view of his wife's garden in full bloom or an uphill view of some of the salvage obstructed by trees along a feeder canal.
Skarl said some areas of the property, especially the front of the barn, looked different from her previous inspection, and some areas that once were in compliance no longer are.
Among the new additions was a steel cage filled with car batteries, Skarl said.
``He's not kept his word,'' Sharon Miller said in her closing argument. ``That's all we've asked for two years.''
John Higgins can be reached at 330-478-6000 (Ext. 12) or 1-800-478-5445 or email@example.com