The following article appeared in the Chagrin Valley Times on July 27, 2016. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish it here. To follow all local news, visit Chagrin Valley Today.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016 11:45 pm
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN
RUSSELL – A petition signed by residents requesting that trustees establish a new township park is heading to a Geauga County Common Pleas Court judge for review.
Russell Fiscal Officer Chuck Walder said sending the petition with signatures collected by residents to establish the park under Ohio Revised Code Section 511 to the court is the next step in the process.
This would be the second park district in Russell . There already is a district whose commissioners are appointed by the Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell. Trustees would name members to the proposed 511 district.
But not everyone sees the need for two park districts.
During a July 20 trustee meeting, resident Chuck Campbell said the movement to start a second district was the result of much “hysteria” over the push by some to buy the farmland owned by the Modroo family to turn it into a passive park. This appears to be an issue about spending or not spending, he said, questioning the need for a second district.
Many of the residents petitioning for a 511 park support the purchase of 52 acres of former Modroo farmland. These and other residents have attended Russell Park District meetings to encourage commissioners to make the purchase estimated at $1.4 million. Some fear the land would otherwise be sold for a housing development.
Linda O’Brien and Charlie Butters, commission members of the existing Russell Park District, have said they are continuing to work with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy on a possible purchase of the Modroo land on Hemlock Road.
The residents petitioning for the new park district have stated that they want a bigger voice in matters and are not happy with the decision-making of the three commissioners appointed this year by Judge Grendell earlier this year. They replaced longstanding member Terry Ries, Roy Podojil, and Sandy Siegler.
Also, some Russell residents have indicated that they want an alternative to the Russell Park District for land donations, township Trustee Justin Madden said.
“I would certainly acknowledge that our citizens are angry that the new appointees of the Russell Park District are ignoring the voice of residents, but our residents have approached this in a civil fashion,” Mr. Madden said.
Resident Al Kraus said it bothers him that no one realized the township government and its residents have no say in the appointment of commissioners to the existing Russell Park District.
Fiscal Officer Charles Walder said discussions about forming a new 511 park district started well before the proposed Modroo property purchase came to light.
Mr. Madden said, “When presented with this petition, the role of the trustees is not to decide in isolation whether to create or not create the 511 park but rather to follow the process” to ultimately put the issue on the ballot “and let the Russell residents decide.”
One-tenth of voters in the last general election were required to sign the petition. As a back-up, trustees sent the petition to the Geauga County Board of Elections to confirm the signatures as registered voters. After receiving the confirmation from the elections board, the petition was certified by township trustees and a motion was passed.
If the common pleas court judge accepts the petition, it will be returned to township trustees. They will then appoint three Russell residents as park commissioners for the 511 Park District. The new park commissioners would then compile a comprehensive report of findings and recommendations with costs to township trustees for approval, Mr. Madden said. The fiscal officer would then publish a 30-day legal notice in regards to the proposed creation of the 511 park district for the next general election. That likely will be the fall of 2017.
If the issue fails, the 511 park district would be disbanded, trustees said. If the issue passes, the district would become an independent political body and exist along with the current Russell Park District.
The 511 district then would take over managing parkland the township already owns as well as acquire land if the opportunity arises, trustees explained.
Trustees said that they would be required to hold open meetings in regards to 511 board appointments.
“Additionally, every two years, one or two trustees are up for re-election. If residents are unhappy with the performance of the 511 board, or the persons appointed to the 511 board, they can hold a trustee accountable,” Mr. Madden said.
Assistant Geauga County Prosecutor Kate Jacob, who attended the July 20 meeting, explained that the proposed 511 Park District and the existing park district would be separate political subdivisions.
“There would be two park districts and they would each oversee their own land,” Ms. Jacob said.