The article below originally appeared on Chagrin Valley Today, the website of the Chagrin Valley Times and Geauga Times Courier. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here.
NOTE: On August 24, we published an independent article on this topic including images of the actual flyers that were distributed by the Park District. You can read that article here.
Chagrin Valley Times
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
The Geauga Park District got a little political last week and it could mean trouble for those involved.
Posted on their website and sent out through electronic messaging, a “Park Appreciation Day” notice included Geauga County Commissioner Republican candidate Timothy Lennon among its speakers. In the first posting, Mr. Lennon was identified a “candidate” for the commissioners, while a second identified him as “future Geauga County Commissioner.”
While the park board, which oversees the parks, did not respond, Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell, who apparently proofread the notice, responded harshly to seeing the notice go out.
“As soon as I saw the flyer, I opined that the language was improper and should not be in there,” Judge Grendell wrote in an Aug. 24 letter to park Director John Oros. “I had contacted you to correct the flyer before release. I was informed that the correction would be made before the flyer was published. Most unfortunately, the flyer, in that incorrect form, was prematurely released. The matter must be corrected immediately and any reference to Mr. Lennon should be removed.”
Judge Grendell placed the blame on Mr. Oros and Sandy Ward, the park’s communication specialist. ‘Frankly, you (Mr. Oros) and Sandy Ward should have known that,” Judge Grendell wrote.
In addition to being posted, Troy Township resident and member of the Protect Geauga Parks Sandy Buckles said she checked with the park and learned that 9,380 emails, containing the “incorrect form” was sent to those who request notification from the park.
Bonnie Cavanaugh, Mr. Lennon’s Democratic challenger in the November election, said she would not waste her time filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Instead, Mrs. Cavanaugh invited voters to investigate criminal complaints filed in Bedford Heights and Chester Township against Mr. Lennon. “The guy has problems,” she said. “He’s (Mr. Lennon) a wanna be, but he’s not equipped to be county commissioner. I hope people will wise up and see what we have to offer.”
Newbury Township resident Christopher Yaecke raised concerns immediately after getting the email notice. “I find this to be a conflict of interest for Tim (Lennon) and the Geauga Park District,” he wrote. “Tim is running for Geauga County Commissioner and he should not be allowed to use taxpayer owned properties or resources at the taxpayers’ expense. Also, it makes it appear that the park district is endorsing Tim for commissioner. I would recommend that you reconsider this arrangement or invite all candidates for county offices to participate in park-sponsored events.”
Philip Richter, executive director and staff attorney for the Ohio Elections Commission, said the question of the listing’s appropriateness is not a matter for the elections commission. He referred to another section of the Ohio Revised Code that may apply. “Ohio Revised Code Title IX includes a section that places limits on the nature of public expenditures that a public agency can make,” he wrote. “Included in there are prohibitions on expending public funds for partisan political purposes, but that section of Ohio law is not within the jurisdiction of the commission. Those questions are better placed either with the legal counsel for the public institution, in this case probably the county prosecutor, or the office of State Auditor, David Yost.”
Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz said he had already received a complaint on the matter and was looking into it.
He said he could not comment, but pointed to section 9.03 of the Ohio Revised Code. It reads, in part, “No government body of a political subdivision shall use public funds to … support(s) or oppose(s) the nomination or election of a candidate for public office, the investigation, prosecution, or recall of a public official, or the passage of a levy or bond issue.”