Leasing park bad idea
I am writing to express my anger that Russell Township Park District is considering a lease agreement with Geauga Park District for township park land. The citizens of Russell (62 percent) voted one year ago to form a new township park district under ORC Article 511 exactly because we wish to have 100 percent local control over our parks. To turn around and threaten to give our parks to an outside entity is a slap in the face of every Russell voter and evidences a cynical disregard for the basic principles of democracy.
Not all that many years ago, the Russell Township Park District was spending about $16,000 a year. It can be done. If the Russell Township Park District has to tighten its belt and cut back on projects for two years, this is preferable to giving our parks over to outsiders.
I hope that both the Russell Township Park District and the Geauga Park District will realize that a lease agreement is not in the best interest of either park district. Russell Township Park District would gain the deep pockets of Geauga Park District, but would lose control over township parks and the respect and support of the Russell community. Geauga Park District would gain nothing of significance, as far as I can see, and I am baffled that the Geauga Park District would even consider such an arrangement.
Please end this crazy idea before both park districts waste yet more taxpayer money on legal fees. I stand ready, willing and able to help the Russell Township Park District find a solution to their financial difficulties that maintains local control over our parks.
Merging Russell boards best path
I have continually been shocked and dismayed at what the 1545 Russell Township Park Board, appointed by probate Judge Timothy Grendell, has done over the past few years. But I am absolutely horrified at what the park commissioners are now attempting to do with our green space. They have entered into negotiations to lease our parks to the Geauga Park District which will completely remove the parks from the residents who have paid for them with our own local tax dollars and fought to keep them open with minimal development. Russell residents overwhelmingly voted to create a new park district with the hope that both the 1545 and the new 511 could be combined so that Russell Township would have control over their parks instead of a judge who has no vested interest in our community other than to encourage land sales and development.
The reason the 1545 board is citing for turning our parks over is that they do not have enough funds to continue their upkeep. Our pre-Grendell commissioners never spent more than $16,000 a year for the upkeep of our open areas. Since Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell removed our long-standing commissioners and placed his own very inexperienced commissioners in place, over $75,000 has been wasted on legal fees along with a myriad of other mistakes.
Money that could have been used on maintenance for many years to come. Funds that were meant to be used to maintain our parks and not to be wasted fighting the wishes of the residents of Russell. Even with the continued drain on funds there is enough money left to continue without losing our parks.
Wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to do the reasonable thing and combine the new 511 with the old 1545 and let the township have control over how our land is used and how our taxes are spent? It would even be preferable to just shut down all expenditures on our land for the next year or two until the current 1545 can correct their fiscal mistakes and move forward in manner that benefits the residents and not another park district or a judge that has been trying to control our land ever since he has been in office.
If not a single penny was spent on our parks for the next two years there would be minimal changes in the land. The 1545 park board needs to immediately end their negotiations with Geauga Parks and initiate a more well thought out plan for sustainability instead of giving away what we already own. Not one time in 38 years of voting have I ever voted no on a levy for conservation. However, I cannot in good conscience vote on the upcoming levy for the 1545 unless the negotiations cease. Instead, I will be voting yes on the small levy for the new 511 park board and hope that both parks can be combined when Timothy Grendell is out of office in two more years.
Park needs new solution
As a Russell resident, I feel compelled to tell you how appalled I am at the very notion that Russell would turn over the administration of its parks to the Geauga Park District. Candidly I must tell you, I smell a rat. And it smells an awful lot like (Geauga Probate Judge Timothy) Grendell.
Unable to squelch voters’ will to apply home rule to our parks (by a 62 percent majority), I believe he’s using this budgetary crisis to further insinuate himself into Russell matters. Furthermore I’m stunned by the apparent lack of creativity in dealing with the matter. It’s my impression that Russell’s parks are mostly passive, so how much operating do they need?
It’s also my understanding that there is $30,000 still in the operating budget. But instead of working out an amended budget that would get us by for two years, your only solution is to spend that money on legal fees to negotiate a handover to county bureaucrats? The parks my tax dollars, your tax dollars, were used to preserve? Honestly? (Seems like all of Geauga’s parks are now merely vehicles to enrich lawyers.) You could probably find volunteers to fill in some gaps temporarily if you’d simply put it out there, ask. The entire episode reeks of a power grab, and I’ll be damned if I don’t at least make some noise before I see that happen.
I implore you to reach out to other Russell entities to find a Russell solution to this problem. I know these positions are voluntary and uncompensated and I thank you for serving in them. But you must understand that Russell residents would see this as nothing short of betrayal if it were to go forward and it would not be soon forgotten. Please understand who it is that you’re serving. I know the relationship is awkward. It’s a little like the president’s relationship to his attorney general. He appoints the AG and can fire him any time he wants, but the AG doesn’t work for the president. He works for us. I hope you’ll similarly see your relationship to Judge Grendell. He can hire and fire but you don’t work for him. You work for us. It’s a pathetic excuse for democracy when all it would take is the votes of two unelected officials to undo the will of voters.
And then we have the other side:
Park board works for people
In a recent letter to the editor Shelley Chernin questioned my ability to make “independent decisions” as the chairman of the Russell Township Park District because, as she wrote, I am “an employee of the probate court” and my “livelihood depends upon the will of the probate court.”
I am an employee of the Geauga County Juvenile/Probate Court where I work with families as a case manager. I was offered this position after receiving recognition for strong performance in my volunteer role as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children. As a resident and homeowner in Russell Township, I also serve our community as a mentor, as a Next Step advisory board member, as a member of the West Geauga School District Communications Committee and as the President of the West Geauga Soccer Club.
I’m surprised and disheartened that Ms. Chernin, who clearly has a passion for conservation, immediately assumed I accepted my position because of need and never stopped to consider that I too might be passionate about something, the children and families of our community.
Ms. Chernin, a renter in Russell, was also quoted in an article as saying, “The 1545 park board is controlled by the probate court and they don’t answer to the people of Russell.” This is simply untrue. All three board members are Russell Township residents and we answer to our fellow residents every month at our public meetings, at which Russell Township residents are encouraged to speak and provide their input. I also encourage residents to read Ohio Revised Code 1545 to understand for themselves the limited authority the probate court has with regard to this park board.
Ms. Chernin accuses the Russell Township Park Board of making “rookie mistakes” and writes she has “difficulty trusting” us. I invite you to attend our board meetings and form your own opinion.
It’s admirable that Scott Wayt believes he is independent of the whims of the Probate Court Judge and is acting in the best interests of the residents of Russell Township. However, recent history has clearly shown that Judge Grendell will not hesitate to remove any park commissioner who even appears to be headed in a direction he does not approve. Employees of the Probate Court are in an even more difficult position as their livelihood is also under control of the same judge.
It’s interesting that Mr. Wayt made no attempt in his letter to justify the proposed lease or explain its terms and why it might be in the best interests of the citizens of Russell Township. Who originated this idea and how is it that the idea was first discussed in public on Oct. 8 and only two weeks later there is a special meeting scheduled to vote on it?
And, by the way, the feeble attempt to denigrate Ms. Chernin’s standing in this issue is just lame. As any renter knows, a landlord would have to be rather careless to forget to include the cost of real estate taxes in the rents charged on rental property. Ms. Chernin has as much right to be involved in issues affecting the Russell Park District as any property owner.