The Geauga Park District board on Monday took steps to sever monetary oversight from the county auditor by changing its bylaws, hiring a fiscal officer and designating a depository bank.

County Auditor Charles E. Walder said Monday that actions taken by the park board came as a surprise.

“I had previously sent the [park district’s] commissioners correspondence advising them of my concerns with the actions that they were taking and in particular the timing of those actions,” Mr. Walder told the Times. “The resolutions delivered [June 28] to my office by the park district will take effect immediately.”

That put in question this week’s payroll due on July 2 as the new park district fiscal officer’s contract goes into effect July 1.

Park district Executive Director John Oros said the action taken Monday was not unusual.

“The public should know that many park districts around the state of Ohio have their own fiscal officer and treasurer so it is quite common,” Mr. Oros said. “I have been with this organization for 27 years and throughout that time” the park board has discussed transiting to a person to undertake the duties of a fiscal officer and treasurer.

During the special meeting, the board hired Michael Fredrick as the new treasurer and fiscal officer for an annual salary of $69,014. Mr. Fredrick has been on board as the park district’s finance manager since April.

“Mr. Mike Fredrick comes to us with a good amount of experience,” Mr. Oros said. “We interviewed a number of candidates for this position and we’re looking forward to this transition.”

Mr. Fredrick has had experience in two state auditor’s offices in Illinois and Ohio, Mr. Oros said, adding that board members expressed a need to hire an individual with a specific set of skills.

The board also amended park district bylaws to separate its fiscal oversight from the Geauga County Auditor and Treasurer’s offices and designated Middlefield Banking Company as its depository for $14 million. All three actions were needed to cut ties with the county.

Mr. Walder told the Times that he was concerned about the potential lack of independent oversight that could result from the park board’s action.

“My office will immediately no longer have a roll in the park district’s spending and I am not aware of other park districts taking similar action.” The majority of park districts formed under Ohio Revised Code Section 1545 use the county auditor and county treasurer for fiscal matters free of charge, Mr. Walder explained.

“I just think from a 30,000-foot view and worrying about their employees and their benefits, what is the rush?” the auditor said of the park board’s action. “Why don’t you do this in a manner which would produce at least some probability of a successful outcome?”

On Tuesday, Mr. Oros asked the Geauga County Commissioners for a $54,000 loan to pay for health insurance of park district employees. Mr. Oros has asked if park employees can stay in the County Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio pool.

He said the park district may not have health insurance in the short term due to the changes made Monday. Officials said earlier this week said that park employees may have to go on COBRA to bridge the gap until health coverage is secured.

Mr. Oros also said that the park district’s phones and internet were not up and running earlier this week after the county ADP board voted against allowing the park district to remain connected to the county without oversight of equipment.

The result of the approved changes means that Geauga County retains control over the annual budget approval process, but the daily oversight of accounting and financial transactions moves from the county auditor to the state auditor, park officials explained.

Park commissioners in December of 2020 approved a resolution to hire a treasurer. This action came after an executive session.

Under ORC, members of the Geauga Park District board are appointed by the sitting county probate court judge. Judge Timothy Grendell now holds that seat. Judge Grendell and Mr. Walder are embroiled in a legal matter concerning payment of bills that is now before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Mr. Oros said communication with the county over the change has been going on for months.

“These items are related to a fiscal transition that we have discussed on [and] off since January of this year, so staff is proposing to make this transition in conjunction with the services of the state auditor through the uniform accounting network,” said Mr. Oros. “We’re hopeful the auditor, working alongside county elected officials and department heads, will work collaboratively with the district in order to ensure a smooth and timely transition of employee park patron services.”

Mr. Oros explained how Middlefield Bank was selected.

“Middlefield Bank was listed as one of the options for where we can hold our money,” Mr. Oros said, referring to the state auditor’s list. “We did distribute a request for qualifications and Middlefield Bank was the one bank that did reply to that request.”

Since the board began seeking a fiscal officer last year, the park district and county auditor have been exchanging letters.

In a Feb. 25 letter, Mr. Walder detailed to Mr. Oros a long list of automatic data processing and other services the county would no longer provide to the park district once a fiscal officer was hired. That list included software used to submit transactions, cash management, check processing, investment management, purchase orders, contract certifications, payroll functions for the 57 park employees, audit functions, email server management, website hosting and many more services.

Mr. Oros wrote a letter referencing a May communication with county officials explaining the three resolutions to be considered by the board as well as the July 1 starting date of the board’s new fiscal officer.

The next Geauga Park District meeting is scheduled for July 12 at 8:30 a.m.

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