Brief Summary Special Meeting Geauga Park Board of Commissioners
By Barb Partington
Friday August 20, 2021 Big Creek Park Meyer Center 8:30 am
There was no notification of this Special Meeting to the required list of people/organizations/media that have signed up to request such notifications, such as Protect Geauga Parks. Thankfully we learned of this meeting from an eagle-eyed community member who saw reference to a meeting on the park website.
Special Meeting was called “To conduct business on 2022 Budget Appropriations.” There was no mention in the notification on the Park website of executive session or hiring legal consultants as the reason for having the special meeting, both of which took place at this meeting.
In attendance: John Oros, Executive Director GPD, Sheryl Hatridge, Adm. Assistant, Commissioners Howard Bates, Pat Preston, Mario Innocenzi and Dennis Ibold. Missing was Commissioner Bill Dieterle.
Audience included 5 residents, 2 Rangers, 2 journalists, GPD Treasurer/Fiscal officer Michael Frederick, 1 additional park staff person and two men who were not identified until end of meeting who turned out to be lawyers from a Cleveland law firm.
For those not up to date on the recent Budget Commission meeting – the Budget Commission is made up of County Auditor, Chuck Walder, County Prosecutor, Jim Flaiz and County Treasurer, Christopher Hitchcock and tasked with reviewing and approving all county budgets annually. On 8/16/21 they approved the GPD budget after making corrections to the budget itself but called out an error of $1.9 million that was not accounted for. The Budget Commission stated that this amount would be withheld from tax collection for the Geauga Park District as the budget did not account for this amount of money so, therefore, it was apparently not needed.
John Oros called meeting to order – Pledge of Allegiance – Roll Call – Approval of Agenda.
Meeting content began with “Old Business” – 2022 Appropriation Budget beginning with power point shown by Mr. Frederick. Mr. Frederick began his presentation saying he had made a “transition error” in the submitted budget and said he took responsibility for the error. He said his presentation was “in order to address this oversight and the Budget Commissioner’s concerns.” He identified where an accounting error had occurred and affected multiple pages of the budget that he stated he has now corrected.
He said his current corrections show where the $1.9 million appears in the revised budget.
(I cannot comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of this amended budget, but it was difficult for me to follow his presentation.)
Mr. Frederick said some of the line-item corrections were “ticky tacky” and not material to the budget. He discussed the Budget Commissions request to use accounting software rather than Excel. His tone was defensive and included some negative comments towards Budget Commission decisions. Mr. Frederick said the park had not been given due process in the budget decision, that taxpayers approve levy’s, not the Budget Commission and said the Budget Commission decision was wrong. John Oros commented on words used by the Budget Commission and disagreed with the decisions made by the Budget Commission.
Note—Michael Frederick’s statement about tax levies is incorrect. While it is true that citizens must vote to approve a tax levy, it is the budget commission that is tasked to review annually the park district’s budget. The budget commission must be certain that tax collections do not exceed the expenditures shown on the budget. It is the commission’s duty and responsibility to authorize the collection of tax monies which do not exceed the amounts shown in the budget.
As for Mr. Fredericks’ claim that the park district was denied “due process,” the budget commission review is the due process hearing. Each county office has the entire year to prepare for this meeting by maintaining comprehensive records of revenues and expenditures and synthesizing them into a coherent document that is called a “budget.”
Mr. Preston responded to Mr. Oros’ request for questions from the Commissioners. He stated a need to get an accounting firm to look at the budget (apparently as opposed to the newly hired park treasurer/fiscal officer.) He said he was dissatisfied with our (the park’s) representation at the Budget Commission meeting – attendees were John Oros, Howard Bates and attorney, Todd Hicks with no financial staff representation. He said they (park) should put everything in writing as do Mr. Flaiz and Mr. Walder. He said, “we got a big wake-up call” and while Walder and Flaiz will not be our friends they are elected officials and we have to play on their playground. He said we are losing the public relations battle. Mr. Preston asked Michael Frederick if multiple people did the budget and Mr. Frederick responded “we all did it together.” Mr. Preston said it was more subject to errors with too many hands in the pot and described why he doesn’t think Excel is the right tool to use as the data is input manually and doesn’t automatically catch errors.
This was the first comment of substance made by a Park Commissioner in quite a while. After the meeting Mr. Preston was thanked by some audience members for speaking at the meeting.
Mr. Oros introduced the two men in the front row, attorneys Mr. John Slagter and Mr. John Oepker from Tucker Ellis Law Firm (Cleveland) and then made a motion to move into Executive Session “to meet privately with legal counsel for the purpose of seeking legal advice.”
Upon return from Executive Session a motion was made by Mr. Oros to “request to authorize John Slagter* and John Oebker, who are with us today from the firm Tucker Ellis, as special counsel to give counsel authorization to engage consultants to evaluate our 2022 Appropriations Budget” The motion was approved.
Both these men attended the Executive session although they had not been, to the best of my knowledge, hired by the park district to provide legal advice to the park board nor was any pay rate determined.
John Oros then said that this meeting had been announced to the public as all meetings are – said to check spam folders if didn’t receive emails and said that we (the park) did follow Sunshine Law. Unfortunately, this is untrue as no one on the list of individuals who request notification received it—spam or no spam. According to park staff, this was due to an error in sending out the message but apparently Mr. Oros did not know or accept that.
Meeting adjourned 9:40 am
* Mr. John Slagter represented Judge Timothy Grendell (then Representative Grendell) in 2009 in a lawsuit according to article in News Herald 4/7/09 and updated 7/16/21.