The following story appeared on Chagrin Valley Today, the website of the Chagrin Valley Times and the Geauga Times Courier, on April 12. Our thanks to the Chagrin Valley Times for permission to republish the article here.
Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 11:45 pm
Two new commissioners will be serving on the Russell Township Park District board. On Monday, Geauga County Probate Court Judge Timothy Grendell administered the oath of office to Georg Abakumov and Greg Studen after appointing them to the board.
The positions were open after former commissioner Charlie Butters resigned last month and commissioner David Genske said Monday at the meeting that he was stepping down. He will be moving from the township. Mr. Abakumov’s term extends to the end of 2017 and Mr. Studen’s term is up at the end of 2019.
There are three positions on the park board and the third member is Linda O’Brien. The members are appointed by the probate court judge, who is now Judge Grendell.
Judge Grendell said he wanted a member with legal experience on the park board.
Both Mr. Studen and Mr. Abakumov had submitted their names to Judge Grendell for consideration.
Mr. Studen has lived in the township more than 30 years and was raised on 40 acres in Newbury where his family had horses and a Christmas-tree farm. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and is a former State of Vermont assistant attorney general and also earned a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in environmental health science. He and his wife have two children and five grandchildren.
He served as a Russell Township Trustee for eight years, was a member of the Geauga County Board of Elections for six years and was a trustee for the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, Russell Land Conservancy and the Chagrin River land Conservancy. He is currently president of the Chagrin River Watershed Partners and a trustee with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Mr. Abakumov was involved in the discussions when neighbors got together to talk about the possible sale by the park district of the 22 acres on Dines Road. He attended the meetings and was not in favor of the sale. Mr. Studen said he will do a good job on the park board.
He has lived in Russell for nine years and is a general practice attorney. He and his wife have a child who recently graduated from West Geauga High School and another child who currently is a sophomore at the high school.
The entire family enjoys the change of seasons and the variety of outdoor activities they bring, such as hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing, according to Mr. Abakumov who is involved with the Diocese of Russian Orthodox Church, being a member of the Parish Council at Saint Sergiu Church in Parma. As a general practice attorney, he has performed legal work for his church.
“I thank Judge Grendell for the opportunity to serve the residents of Russell Township in this way,” Mr. Abakumov said of his new appointment. “I am very much concerned with and interested in preserving the environment, clean air, clean water, and my wife and I love the natural beauty of Russell Township.”
Judge Grendell said he had met Mr. Abakumov during the discussions of the sale of the 22 acres of Russell parkland on Dines Road. “He is very knowledgeable about real estate law, and I was impressed,” the judge said.
Mr. Abakumov said Tuesday, he is looking forward to adding to the parkland as a benefit to the community and making Russell and the Chagrin Valley what it is. He wants to make sure the park board meetings are open and encourage the maximum community input.
He said he was not in favor of the Dines Road sale. It would have been against the intent of the taxpayers who purchased it as parkland and green space forever. The concern was that whoever owns the adjoining seven acres could undo the restrictions on the land.
Judge Grendell said he has known Mr. Studen many years and worked with him in 2001 on establishing the farmers market which is held in South Russell. “Greg will keep the best interests of Russell in mind, and he brings his legal background to the board,” he said.
Mr. Studen said he submitted his name for an appointment because he felt he could help out with issues. There was a misunderstanding on the sale of the Dines Road property. “The park board had considered the sale of the property, and I think their motive was good,” he said. “I think their motives were positive.”
The idea was to maintain a conservation easement on the acreage, however, there were concerns among many residents that a private ownership would not give long-term protection to the property, Mr. Studen said.
He will play a role in building trust with the public, he said. His first goal is to get entirely familiar with all the park lands in the township. And the board will be making balanced decisions on the Modroo parkland off Hemlock Road. “It is the next big mission to tackle.” Those matters will include public access and use for educational purposes with a parking area and a trail. The public will be engaged on those decisions.
Mr. Studen said he supports preserving parklands and also keeping many areas accessible for enjoyment and appreciation by the public. The Russell Uplands Preserve is an example of the balance of protecting natural resources and giving access to the public, Mr. Studen said.
Russell Trustee Justin Madden said Tuesday, “Greg Studen is a very fine individual who I am sure will run the park board in a legal and proper manner.”
Russell resident Barbara Berkeley has supported preservation of parkland. “I’m very encouraged by the appointment of Greg Studen who has a long history of serving resident of Russell. He is knowledgeable on conservation.”
And while she does not know Mr. Abakumov, she said, “He was involved in saving the Dines Road property from sale, so I feel encouraged by him as well.”
Both new members will maintain the balance of preserving parkland and providing Russell residents with the use of the parks in a reasonable manner, Judge Grendell said, and they will reach out to the township trustees.
“They should do a very fine job of managing over 400 acres of parkland in Russell,” Judge Grendell said.He added that board members with legal experience will help the park board meetings run to legal standards.
He also noted that the present park board commissioners will make it unnecessary to have two park boards in the township. He referred to a park board being established through Russell Township Trustees under Ohio Revised Code 511, in which the trustees appoint members to the board.
“I am confident that this board will fulfill all of the township’s park needs without the addition of a second township park district,” Judge Grendell said.
Judge Grendell, in referring to the recent controversy over discussions of a sale of the 22 acres of Russell parkland on Dine Road, stressed that any sale of park properties would require his approval, and he would never approve the sale of any Russell Park District properties.
Judge Grendell said he has met with Mr. Butters to thank him for his work on the board. He noted that Mr. Butters wants to help with the transition. “I appreciate it very much.” He added Mr. Butters was instrumental in the Township Park District’s acquisition of the Modroo park property.
He also noted Mr. Genske and Mr. Butters served on the board through some “challenging circumstances. They were instrumental in the township Park District’s fiscally responsible acquisition of the Modroo property which saved taxpayers $350,000,” he said.
Mr. Butters said Tuesday he will keep up with progress of the park board. “I’ll help them out. There are some fiscal issues to be followed up on.”
In the meantime, the township is moving ahead with forming the second park district under the 511 Ohio Revised Code section. Trustees appointed Roy Podojil, Betsy Rader and Erik Gerard to the board who currently are working on plans for a veterans’ memorial in the township. Voters will be making the decision whether to officially approve the new park board during the November general election.
Video recordings of the April 10 meeting of the Russell Township Park Commissioners Meeting has been added to our Video Archive page above.