The following article originally appeared in the Geauga County Maple Leaf. Our thanks to the Maple Leaf for permission to republish the article here.
Geauga Maple Leaf
September 18, 2016
The newly appointed 511 Russell Park Committee officially started on its year-long quest to establish a proposed township-controlled park board, as permitted by Ohio Revised Code section 511.
Appointed by township trustees, the ad hoc committee consisting of Erik Gerard, Betsy Rader and Roy Podojil held their organizational meeting Sept. 12.
“I want to make sure we’re transparent,” Podojil said in welcoming several residents and guests who attended the meeting.
Podojil presented a draft of a mission statement and goals for the other two members to consider for adoption at a future meeting.
His draft proposes to “retain as much open space, ‘green space,’ within the township to retain the high quality of the life here in Russell” and follow conservation practices.
It states the mission is “to protect and conserve in perpetuity the major watersheds that constitute the Chagrin River valley and those lesser streams in the area,” as well as protect riparian zones along those waterways and purchase properties contiguous to ones already held in the township’s park portfolio.
Podojil also asked that the proposed 511 park commission “work closely with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy on potential conservable properties” and “be willing to accept land donations and comply with landowners’ requests to have the land parcel passive, conserved and protected by conservation easements.”
He also proposed working with the trustees on a possible veteran’s park.
Podojil is a 16-year veteran of Russell’s other park board — established in 1984 under ORC section 1545 — whose members are appointed by and answerable to Geauga Probate Court Judge Tim Grendell.
“I was a member of the 1545 park board before a change occurred,” Podojil explained. “I worked with Betsy on the Westwood Land Lab’s 26 acres of educational passive park to the north of Westwood Elementary School. And it’s still operating.”
“I’m here to support you,” responded resident Al Klauss.
With ground rules provided by Russell Township Trustee Jim Mueller, the group elected Podojil as its chairman and Rader as it vice-chairman.
The committee is charged with gathering information, planning for a potential 511 park district along with budgeting and preparing a report for the trustees on the feasibility of the park district.
Mueller said the 511 committee can use township personnel and resources to prepare the report. He advised the committee they were subject to Ohio Sunshine laws and requirements.
Township Fiscal Officer Chuck Walder advised he and his staff were available to help with record-keeping, budgeting and other tasks.
“After the next general election in November 2017, you can form your own political subdivision,” Mueller explained. “The potential park properties include 167 acres that belong to the trustees, not to the 1545 park board.”
Township voters must approve of the formation of the separate park district in a general election, Mueller said.
Walder said under Ohio law, Russell is permitted to have four park boards.
He explained Russell currently has the Geauga Park District, which is a 1545 park, and the Russell Township 1545 park board, which, under Ohio Law, are suited for county-wide parks.
Mueller said the state law allowing a locally controlled 511 park district was not established until 10 years after the township’s original park board was formed.
“The 511 park would be our home town park board,” Mueller added. “In the long game, we intend to have one park board. We’re at loggerheads with Judge Grendell on our 1545 park board. Grendell won’t always be the judge. The 1545 park board could dissolve itself at some point, go through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the park property could come back to us.”
Future meetings were set for Oct. 10, Nov. 14 and Dec. 12 at the Russell Township Fire Station.