Public comments democratic right

The following article appeared on August 31, 2016 on Chagrin Valley Today, the online news site of the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here.

Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 11:45 pm


The days may be numbered for Charles Butters, who was appointed to one of the three positions on the Russell Park Commission in February by Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy J. Grendell. Mr. Butters, who has a long history of exercising his democratic right to voice public comments during local government meetings, reiterated his strong support for that right at the Aug. 17 Russell Township Trustees meeting.

 Mr. Grendell, who takes his judicial responsibility of appointing members of the county and township park boards personally, is not one who appreciates differences of opinion.

The Geauga Park District has undergone no less than eight changes on its three-member board since Mr. Grendell began oversight of the district in 2012. One of those members, Jeffrey T. Orndorff, was terminated by the judge after serving just eight months last year. Mr. Orndorff had the nerve to question decisions by the judge’s hand-picked executive director, John Oros.

None of the current Geauga Park commissioners raised any questions in July, when Mr. Oros advanced the elimination of public comments from their meeting agendas. Actually, the commissioners, who officially are the executive director’s bosses, unanimously voted to make his decision official.

For the record, Mr. Grendell said he had no say in that decision, although he pointed out that provisions for public comment are not required under Ohio law. Perhaps it’s only coincidental that the judge has referred to critics of his park leadership as “close-minded, disrespectful and disingenuous individuals.”

Protect Geauga Parks, an organization formed in opposition to the park district’s new direction under Mr. Grendell’s leadership, surveyed more than 50 public park systems in Ohio and found no others to have eliminated public comments at their meetings.

But the Russell Park District, now under total control of Mr. Grendell’s appointees, could be the second one.

No public comments were entertained at the Russell Park Commission’s Aug. 17 meeting. Russell Trustee Justin Madden reported that residents have complained about not being permitted to speak at recent meetings. That led to a resolution by Township Trustees requiring all public bodies meeting at Russell Town Hall, including the park commission, to permit public comments.

Trustee James Mueller said, “We believe our Town Hall should be a citadel of speech and open communications,” which is a hallmark of democratic government meeting halls.

Mr. Butters was adamant that the Russell Park Commission should permit public comments. “I will continue to voice that there is a public-comment section in the meeting,” he said. “I strongly support it.”

Both the county and township park boards have received their share of public criticism. In authoritarian societies, the response to critics is to shut them up. In democratic societies, respectful governmental bodies do not respond in the fashion of the Geauga Park Board.

Categories: News

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