Time to remove Judge Grendell from Geauga parks oversight: previous editorial

NOTE: The following article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer a little over a year ago. It is worth revisiting it today as we approach the March 17 Primary Election.

Cleveland Plain Dealer &
Updated January 11, 2019
A curved bank of windows in the lobby of the Geauga Parks West Woods Nature Center brings the park’s beauty inside. “Every time I come in here and look out, I’m amazed,” said Bob McCullough, then a parks board member, seen in this 2002 file photo. McCullough stepped down in 2010. Since September 2011, when Timothy Grendell gained authority over the park board as Geauga County Probate/Juvenile judge, the board has had 12 different members.

“Power tends to corrupt,” the British statesman Lord Acton wrote long ago, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In Judge Timothy J. Grendell, the voters of Geauga County have visited upon themselves the perfect model for that well-known and enduring observation.

Grendell is a smart and experienced politician, whose ideas are usually worth consideration. Unfortunately, he seems to have concluded over time that his ideas are the only ones worth considering. As Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court judge, he has often used his position to bully those who disagree with him. And his attendant role as the sole authority over the Geauga County Park District – a duty bestowed on county probate judges by a venerable state law — awards him a power that is as absolute as you are likely to find in this democracy, with the result Lord Acton warned to anticipate.

Calls for the courts or legislators in Columbus to rein him in have come from groups as disparate as the environmentalist Protect Geauga Parks organization and the Geauga County commissioners.

Today we add our voice, urging the Ohio legislature to reconsider the 99-year-old law that places county park districts under the unfettered direction of their probate judge. The park system is too valuable – and too fragile – to be under the sole control of one dictatorial judge who sees ballfields and bocce courts where others see Monarch butterfly breeding grounds.

Most people are likely surprised to learn that the county probate judge oversees the three-person park board — but that has been the case since 1917, when the Ohio legislature empowered Ohio’s counties to establish park districts, “in order to provide for the preservation of natural resources.” For reasons unexplained in the bill, each county’s probate judge was given sole authority to appoint – and dismiss — the board members who manage the operation of the parks.

In many counties, as it was with Grendell’s predecessor, the late Chip Henry, the probate judge appoints responsible people to the park board to serve their graduated three-year terms, and then leaves the decisions in their hands, while getting back to the responsibilities of his court. Occasionally a judge needs to step up and make a change for the general good, as did Cuyahoga County Probate Judge Anthony Russo a few years ago. But we are aware of no judge who has been as heavy-handed as Grendell in exercising his will over the parks.

Grendell has made his philosophy clear in spoken and written commentary: The parks should not be limited to preservation, but their use should be expanded to recreational activities, including ball diamonds, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

There are some who would agree with that opinion. But it is distressing to environmentalists who think the parks should be left alone for hiking and other more passive, noninvasive activities. It also runs counter to the results of twocountywide surveys on how best to use the parkland.

In Geauga County, however, Grendell’s is the only opinion that counts.

Protect Geauga Parks endorses and supports Matt Rambo for Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge in the March 17 Republican Primary election.
Please request a Republican Party ballot and vote for Matt Rambo.

Protect Geauga Parks is a 501(c)4  non-profit corporation 
This communication is not authorized by any candidate, political party or campaign committee.

Categories: Commentary

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