The following article originally appeared in the Geauga County Maple Leaf. Our thanks to the Maple Leaf for permission to republish the article here.
JUNE 14, 2017 BY STAFF REPORT
GEAUGA DEMS ALSO OPPOSE PROPOSED LEGISLATION
Thirty-nine members of the Geauga County Republican Party Executive Committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to oppose House Bill 218, the proposed law that would expand probate judge’s powers over park districts.
The special meeting was held in the large gymnasium of the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities Metzenblum School in Chester Township.
Committee member Scott Kayser, who is married to state Rep. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chester Township, presented factual background information on the bill and the process by which it is proceeding in the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee (GAO), party Chairman Nancy McArthur said.
To date, two hearings have been held on the bill: sponsor testimony on May 31 and proponent testimony on June 7.
A third hearing for opponent testimony will likely be scheduled for next week, McArthur said.
She added none of the 39 members present Tuesday night offered any testimony or statements in support of HB 218.
McArthur and Chester Township Trustee Ken Radtke, both of whom testified before the House Finance Committee last month, expressed opposition to the bill.
McArthur said she also read a statement Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz had given to the Geauga Times Courier newspaper about his concerns with HB 218.
“Some of it is unconstitutionally vague and concerns provisions that allow a probate court to investigate matters. I believe it is against judicial canons of ethical conduct,” Flaiz had said.
A motion was made to vote a paper ballot to oppose HB 218 and it passed unanimously 39-0, said McArthur.
McArthur added she is scheduled to appear before Geauga County Commissioners on June 20 and intends to ask the board for a letter of opposition to HB 218.
Last week, the Geauga County Democratic Party Executive Committee met and also passed an opposition position to HB 218, state Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, said Wednesday. The party’s central committee is expected to vote on the position statement at its June 27 meeting.
Last week, the Executive Board of the Ohio Association of Probate Judges (OAPJ) unanimously approved an amended version of HB 218 that would make the law applicable to township park districts only, according to a news release issued by the Geauga County Probate Court.
“This approval followed an overwhelming vote of support from the Ohio Judicial Conference Probate Law and Procedure Committee,” the release said.
Geauga County Probate Court Judge Tim Grendell, who worked with HB 218’s sponsor, state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, in drafting the proposed legislation, said he was pleased his fellow probate court judges support the legislation “in order to avoid the confusion that has led to unnecessary and costly litigation, ultimately saving township residents’ hard earned tax dollars in the future.”
Grendell is a member of the Ohio Judicial Conference’s Juvenile and Probate Law & Procedure committees, and its executive and legislative committees, according to Shawn Welch, OJC’s deputy legislative counsel..
Seitz, who served with Grendell in the statehouse, introduced HB 218 as a stand-alone bill after the Ohio House Finance Committee removed a similar proposal from the biennial budget bill being considered by state legislators last month.
The bill, among other things, would grant a probate court broad authority to:
- “Investigate matters involving the park district either through a court hearing or through a special master commissioner . . . if a written request is made to the court by a majority of the board of park commissioners.”
- “Tax the cost of proceedings, including special master commissioner investigation fees, as court costs to be assessed by the court in its discretion.”
- “[O]rder that a person become a party to a proceeding concerning a park district if the person’s presence as a party is necessary to enable the court to make a decision fairly and effectively in the proceeding.”
In addition, the bill would permit the court to designate any person a “party” and would provide that a township or other entity that submits an application to create a park district is a party in perpetuity, “unless otherwise designated by the court.”
A probate court would not be authorized under the bill to “take any action that infringes upon any rights of an individual or organization” that are protected by the U.S. or Ohio constitutions.
Seitz’s bill also features provisions providing a “probate court shall not impede or interfere with the daily operations of a park district” and any actions taken under the proposed law would be “limited to injunctive relief or a declaratory judgment.”