From the Chagrin Valley Times
July 1, 2021
Internet and phone services remained down on Thursday (July 1) at 27 county parks as the Geauga Park District continued the transition of splitting from the Geauga County auditor and treasurer’s offices. The process began Monday.
County Auditor Charles Walder said on Thursday that funds were transferred from the county to the park district on June 29.
“Those were wired, and it is my understanding from talking to the prosecutor that the park district’s attorney confirmed receipt somewhere around 5 [p.m.],” Tuesday, he said.
Park district officials on Wednesday refused to accept boxes of documents delivered by employees from the auditor’s office, Mr. Walder said. The documents included confidential employee payroll records and various items such as required obligations, statutory filings, accounting records for the park district’s use, current open purchase orders, contractor lists, grants, appropriations, certificates of estimated resources and budget information. Other items included open audit issues, correspondence, payroll folders and timesheets that had been submitted.
Park district officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Mr. Walder said the county sent two people to the park district office in the early afternoon and had confirmed ahead of time through the district’s executive director that the meeting would include the director and the new district fiscal officer.
“He looked things over and refused to accept them and wouldn’t sign the document of acceptance, so we packed them up and brought them back and then we provided it to the county prosecutor who provided them directly to [the park district’s] counsel,” Mr. Walder said. “If they don’t sign for it, I can’t surrender it because again, just like the payroll records, there could be some confidential materials in those emails. It’s not something you just leave on the street corner.”
On Monday, the park board severed monetary ties with the Geauga County auditor and treasurer by changing its bylaws, hiring a fiscal officer and designating a bank to hold its funds.
This set off a whirlwind of events that have put in jeopardy park employees’ paychecks and health insurance as well as park operations. Last month, the Geauga County Automatic Data Processing Board cited concerns of security due to lack of oversight when it denied the park district’s request to continue to receive internet and phone service from the county after the split.
Few were prepared for the park district’s actions.
“I have to pinch myself,” Mr. Walder said on Tuesday. “I am totally shocked, which is a bad feeling I’m starting to get used to.”
During the Geauga County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Walder was asked to work with the prosecutor and park district to find a way to pay bills for the month of June.
Mr. Walder said the auditor’s office pays bills at the end of the month. Ties were cut with his office three days before the end of June. After that, he said the auditor’s office had no authority to pay bills, health insurance premiums and salaries of park employees.
For health insurance premiums, Mr. Walder said payment is taken from two sources, money deducted from employees’ paychecks and funds county departments have set aside for benefits.
The park district officially separated from the county before the auditor’s office could pay the monthly health insurance bill, he said.
“Since I don’t have access anymore to the park’s money, I can’t pull that component and that amount was around $54,000 [for health insurance] for all of [the park district] employees.”
“Late Monday night I got a call from the prosecutor who asked, what can we do, how can we get this bill paid,” said Mr. Walder.
The next day, the Geauga County Commissioners approved a $54,000 loan to the park district to cover the costs of the health insurance for its 46 employees. The money came from the county’s emergency contingency fund, he said.
Park district Executive Director John Oros attended the county commissioners’ meeting to request the funds.
Mr. Walder said the commissioners will issue an invoice later to the park district to be reimbursed for that money and it will be put back into that fund.
“I don’t know where they stand with their phones coming back online because they’re not coming back online with the county,” he said explaining that the park district would need its own independent system installed.
“It would seem to me you would have contracted for phones before separation so there would already have been monies allocated,” Mr. Walder said.
Mr. Walder said phones must be linked to the internet. The county uses a voice-over IP phone service.
“They still have telephones, but they’re not hooked into anything. There’s nobody wiggling the wires,” said Mr. Walder.