GUEST COLUMN: Park district spending taxpayer dollars for advertising

Chagrin Valley Times

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


My hat’s off to the rank and file employees of the Geauga Park District for their hard work in coping with a  difficult situation on Nassau Observatory opening day and solar eclipse day thanks to questionable planning or lack of planning on the part of the Grendell/Oros administration.    Many of us had thought the park districts plans would be reasonable with no extravagant expenses for advertising etc. for these events but such turned out not to be the case.

Public information requests revealed the park spent nearly $20,000 of our tax dollars for advertising with three television stations for the Nassau opening in addition to advertising elsewhere.    Not surprisingly, broadcasting all over Northeast Ohio was responsible for so many people arriving at these events  that thousands had to be turned away.    A friend attending stated that most of the license plates were from outside Geauga County.   If you were one of the turned away Geauga taxpayers whose taxes actually paid for the parkland and the majority of the facilities you likely felt it was hardly a successful event.   

Park districts were originally authorized by state legislation back in the early 1900’s primarily to protect rapidly disappearing natural areas.   What is the Grendell/Oros administration trying to do?  Get more people to move to Geauga County?   Create more traffic on our roads?   Get more business for their developer friends that like to turn beautiful farmland, wetlands and other natural areas into housing developments and parking lots?  The last time I checked, the park administration had around $200,000.00  of our tax dollars budgeted for advertising.    Do we want our park funds spent in that way or to purchase and protect natural areas and endangered/threatened species?

The “blowout” on Nassau day was only one of many mistakes of poor planning and poor decisions regarding observatory park.     One wonders why the Nassau opening was scheduled only two days before a rare total eclipse of the sun.    The eclipse was only partial here in Ohio.  Since the experience of a solar eclipse is hundreds of times more spectacular if you are directly in the eclipse path, most folks with a serious astronomical interest in the event were traveling to the eclipse path, out of state,  and thus could not attend Nassau opening day.   Poor planning?   Did  they consult with the same experts on this that said there were no thermal problems with Nassau and that the dome would not collide with the elevator?    You read that correctly.  The dome actually collides with the elevator shaft if it rotates 360 as it should.  It seems the administration did not know that an observatory dome is supposed to rotate as they had the elevator built too close to the dome.  Any astronomers would shake their heads in disbelief at such incompetence.

The latest “foopa” is the apparent destruction of a precision optical bench that was included in the observatory purchase from Case/Western Reserve U.   Apparently Case had no use for the item so they included it in the purchase.  My recollection is they paid about $10,000 for this precision item back about 2003.   This item is still made by the same company and probably costs about $15,000 today.   The last time I saw it after the park district purchase, it appeared to be in perfect condition.   I think it likely could have been sold for at least half that price.   A public information request to the park district showed a photo of the torn up optical bench which presumably was carted to the dump. 

More than two years ago I asked Mr. Young, the person responsible for planning at Nassau about overall plans for the observatory.     He was in the process of spending money on the building but said nothing of any overall plan on how the observatory would be used.    He stated that the naturalists were planning some exhibits and “for a million dollars you get an elevator and a bathroom”. 

During the Tom Curtin era when the property was purchased and planning first started for Nassau  the Chagrin Valley Astronomical Society provided guidance on planning.  Surely the very competent and astronomically knowledgeable society members would have caught these big planning mistakes had they been consulted.   One wonders why they were not consulted.    Planning should have involved a written long-range plan done before any money was spent.   The plan should have been presented to the public, asking for comment and changes could then have been made if deemed desirable.  

It’s not too late to rescue our park district from this continuous waste of money and destruction of our once fine park district.   But that change is unlikely to come with the present  probate judge, park commissioners and director.   It seems it will be up to us citizens to force that change. 

Mr. Augustine is a resident of Parkman Township and is a Trustee of Protect Geauga Parks.

Categories: Commentary

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