Chagrin Valley Times
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 11:45 pm
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
The Geauga Park Board of Commissioners meeting erupted into calls of backroom deals from the audience Tuesday after the board refused to answer questions about a proposed new snowmobile program at Observatory Park in Montville Township.
About a dozen of the attendees began shouting at the board following an approximately 8 minute meeting, during which there was no discussion on the new snowmobile program that will be introduced for the first time in the parks by permit.
“What a joke,” one audience member said. “Is this Russia?” asked another. Others began questioning the board on whether their discussions on park matters were all being decided behind closed doors.
The board ignored the audience comments, continuing to move into an executive session to discuss “the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation of a public employee.”
A posting on the park district’s website invited the public to apply for permits to use a trail at Observatory Park during the winter season. All other users will be prohibited on the trail while snowmobiles are in use.
Park Board member William Gertz said last week that he planned to bring up the issue at the next board meeting, but failed to do so. Mr. Gertz had voted against a trial run for snowmobiles at the park this past January.
Other than “so moved,” “second” and roll call votes on various items such as the agenda format, minutes and vouchers, the board offered no other comments on any items during the meeting.
Prior to the start of the meeting, Barbara Partington of Munson Township, appealed to the board to once again allow public comment, a portion of the agenda that was abandoned at the beginning of the year.
“I respectfully propose that now would be a time for the board to resume the public comment at your monthly meetings,” Mrs. Partington said. “We, the public, want to have dialogue with you and would like to do that publicly, rather than through the media.
“It would be a positive and respectful move to begin that dialogue,” she continued. “Let us resume the tradition of these great parks of welcoming communication between the public and the board.”
After adjourning, board members began addressing the audience that continued to pepper them with questions about the new program, including whether such an activity would affect the park’s 2011 designation as a Silver Tier Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, making it one of only five parks east of the Mississippi River to hold that distinction.
Troy Township resident Sandy Buckles said the notice on the park district website stated that the park would be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the snowmobile program and questioned its impact on that dark sky distinction.
Residents also questioned whether the board should have given some type of approval for the program with it having voted previously to allow the trial run at the beginning of the year.
Board member Jackie Dottore said John Oros, the park’s executive director, had the authority to create new programs for the park without a vote of the board. She said it would only be allowed from sunrise to sunset and involve only one trail in the park, the Woodland Trail.
Mr. Gertz did not comment on the snowmobiles, but told audience members that he was still mad about the “scathing comments” when the board had purchased land next to his, accusing him of using his position to benefit with higher property values because of now being adjacent to park lands. “We enhanced the whole area,” he said adding that his taxes also went up.
Mrs. Buckles said Mrs. Dottore indicated that the park website posting might have been misinterpreted. Yet the posting remained unchanged early Tuesday afternoon, listing the hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mrs. Dottore looked up the website on her phone and showed Mrs. Buckles that the listing had other restrictions on the snowmobile program at Observatory Park.
The phone listing showed that the restrictions for snowmobiles would permit them only from dawn to dusk, Mrs. Buckles said. It also stated that access to the park trail would only be made from a trail on an adjoining private property and by those who are members of the snowmobile club.
Mrs. Dottore could not be reached to confirm the information as she is unlisted in the phone book and does not include a contact number of the park’s website.
Mrs. Partington said she spoke with Sheryl Hatridge, administrative assistant with the parks, who said the changes mirrored what Mrs. Dottore showed to Mrs. Buckles and would be posted on the park website by later in the day.
Ms. Hatridge told the Times on Wednesday that the revised permit applications will be posted this week on the park website. It will limit the snowmobiles to the one trail, from dawn to dusk and will be accessible from adjoining private property by those who are members or an affiliation of the Ohio State Snowmobiling Association.
Mrs. Partington said greater restrictions on the snowmobiles can be credited to pressure applied by the Protect Geauga Parks, a nonprofit group formed to ensure the park’s original motto of protect, preserve and conserve, remains at the forefront of any activities in the county parks.
“While we still disagree with any snowmobile use there, PGP is taking credit for the changes and what we see as a lack of transparency that this was not announced at the meeting,” she said.