Geauga Park Board Commissioners on Monday appointed Jennifer Pae as the new treasurer and fiscal officer for the park district. The board also discussed proposals for land use in Thompson and Claridon townships.
The Park district has been working with Frank Suponcic from Marcum LLP to select the new finance director.
“Jennifer comes with a significant amount of education and career experience in public sector finance,” Executive Director John Oros said. “We look forward to working with her to achieve the fiscal and financial goals of the park district.”
Her annual salary is $108,000 plus benefits, according to district officials. Marcum LLP was to be paid 20 percent of the fiscal officer’s beginning salary for the search, according to park officials.
Ms. Pae, who attended the Monday meeting, served as finance director for the city of Lakewood for 14 years as well as Hunting Valley for several months during the village’s transition from a full-time to a part-time finance director.
She graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree and earned her master’s in public administration from Cleveland State University. Ms. Pae has served on numerous boards and is a founder of a nonprofit group in Nairobi, Kenya.
She begins her job after the district faced a series of financial challenges. On Sept. 30, park district employee Dawn Sweeney was named interim finance manager after the board fired Michael Frederick who had been doing the job for three months.
Mr. Frederick was hired after the park district took steps on June 28 to separate from financial oversight and services of the Geauga County auditor and treasurer. In July, the Geauga Budget Commission questioned $1.9 million in unaccounted funds that park official initially could not explain. The budget commission then reduced the park district’s 1-mill levy to 0.4 mills for collection in 2022 saying the unaccounted funds must be returned to taxpayers. The issue was later attributed to a simple accounting error for which Mr. Frederick took responsibility. The park district unsuccessfully tried to challenged the levy deduction.
In other business, park board commissioners heard from Thompson Township Trustee Erwin Leffel who discussed the possibility of transferring a piece of property from the Geauga County Public Library to the park district.
Mr. Leffel stated that Thompson Township initially transferred the property to the library as a construction site. But that was not possible. That’s because the soil was not compactible for new construction after the original Thompson school built in 1924 was demolished and the old building materials were dumped into the basement.
A new site was selected for the library building to the north end of the property, he explained.
Mr. Leffel said his wife in 2018 had the idea of building an outdoor education area and cultural space on the lower elevation of the property along with a connector trail from the space to Thompson Ledges Township Park.
“My wife was a visionary, she would see a vision and she would say we have to do this,” said Mr. Leffel. This would bring the park district’s mission to Thompson Township, he added.
Park board members tabled the request so they could have more discussion on the proposal.
“This project would be a collaborative effort between the Geauga County Public Library, Geauga County Library Foundation, Geauga Park District and the Foundation for Geauga Parks,” said Mr. Leffel. “Berkshire Local School District would bring students out to have programs there.”
The board made no decision on this request.
Park board commissioners also discussed a donation of property known as the Berman property from Tom Wadsworth to the park district in exchange for the park district paying for a survey and other related costs.
The 6.7-acre property located in Claridon Township consists of almost exclusively a wetland habitat with the remaining land cover comprised of upland forest.
The wetlands are the most dominant natural resource found on the property and are important because they often are a source for breeding of sensitive woodland amphibians and provide a habitat for uncommon birds, according to an evaluation report prepared by Park District Biologist Paul Pira.
Running through the property is a portion of the west branch of the Cuyahoga River and a small headwater tributary to the Cuyahoga River runs from south to north on the property.
This section of the Cuyahoga River is a high-quality stream rich in aquatic flora and fauna and an important contributor the to the region’s biodiversity, according to the report.
“There’s a small tributary that runs through and then quite a bit of the main stem of the Cuyahoga River that skirts to the edge and come in and out of the property,” said Mr. Pira. “But it’s really pretty, it’s a nice quality wetland.”
Park board members decided to table this item and develop an estimate of how much the park district would pay for survey and closing costs.
“We continue to concentrate on making lands that were already purchased by the district accessible to the public through park development,” said Mr. Oros. “We must then weigh the costs versus benefits associated with any acquisition. We should also recognize the importance of having a plan to make these lands accessible to our county residents.”
The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 20 at 8:30 a.m.