Newbury Trustees took the first step last week to turn around what is being described as a “embarrassing” and disgraceful chapter in the community’s recreation program.

Trustees and Newbury Board of Education members met jointly last week to discuss the fate of the Newbury Joint Recreation Board, whose members are appointed by trustees and the board of education.

Township Trustee Glen Quigley explained that with the possibility of the school district being absorbed by West Geauga Schools, the township was looking to dissolve the recreation board and bring it under the township’s control.

School Board President Maggie Zock agreed, saying the recreation board would continue until the district closes.

The discussion, however, soon turned to accusations with Mrs. Zock accusing Trustee Greg Tropf with having exceeded his authority with the recreation board.

Mrs. Zock questioned whether Mr. Tropf had acted with the support of the full board in attempting to direct the recreation board at one of its meetings and intervening in a dispute between the Geauga Soccer Federation and the recreation board at the Oberland ballfields. The Aug. 22 incident at the soccer fields escalated to the point that Geauga County Sheriff’s deputies were called to calm the situation.

Mrs. Zock said Mr. Tropf had no authority to act as an individual in those matters and had obstructed recreation board business.

Mr. Tropf said the incident at the fields was just an attempt to help the soccer federation line the fields at no cost to the township and had stopped the recreation board from conducting an illegal meeting.

“I take offense,” Mr. Tropf said. “The board tried to go into executive session with a quorum. I told them to stop.”

Mr. Tropf said his actions caused him to be physically and verbally abused.

Mr. Quigley intervened before the dispute went further, reminding both sides they were elected to be the “adults.” Quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, Mr. Quigley called for “malice for none and charity for all.”

He called for both sides to work for a recreation board that all can be proud of.

“We won’t get anywhere if this is the level of conversation,” Mr. Quigley said.

Board of education member Kimya Matthews said the recreation board had become a “political weapon” rather than one that has served the community’s children. “They have turned it into a show for political gains,” she said.

She asked that a person be hired to oversee the recreation program and that the change to a board under the jurisdiction of trustees happen before basketball registration begins in October to ensure a smooth transition.

Mrs. Zock said before the transition takes place they need to get an inventory of park board equipment and its financial records.

Mr. Quigley said those items can be secured in the next 30 days after which it will be sent to the county treasurer for review.

School board member Martin Sanders said he could see the situation degrading five months ago.

“It’s sad all this had to happen because of power plays,” Mr. Sanders said. “We’re the adults and we should know better and the ones paying for this are the kids. All this pettiness makes us look silly.”

Trustee William Skomrock said he sees the situation the same as Mr. Sanders.

“It’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace,” Mr. Skomrock said.

He said people worry about the township’s image because condemned houses in the township may present a bad image for the township. He said this situation does the same to harm the township’s reputation.

Mr. Quigley said the goal is to bring on five to seven members with no political agendas to serve on a new board.

Mrs. Mattews said the liner for the fields is owned by the recreation board and the soccer federation does not have the right to use it.

Mr. Quigley called for a cooperative relationship in which the equipment is shared. “Can’t we share nets and liners for 30 days?” he asked.

Recreation board President Lauren Luoma asked Mr. Tropf why he is so intent on dissolving the existing recreation board.

Mr. Tropf replied, “It’s embarrassing.”

Mrs. Luoma replied, “We’ve doubled our numbers this year, but it’s an embarrassment.”

Resident Karl von Busse said the issue has divided the community and people need to work together to make the transition work. “Everybody’s allowing their personal feelings to drive their everyday behavior,” he said.

Mr. Quigley said the township is committed to forming the new recreation board, although at this time no one knows what it will look like. He said he would like to see an expanded program that invites those from outside the community to participate. He said the additional children in the programs provide added revenues and can offset the township’s maintenance costs.

One recreation board member questioned why the recreation board is not being included in the conversation about its future.

Mr. Quigley said existing members can still apply to serve with the new board, noting that the trustees will seek people willing to move the recreation district forward.

He said the trustees must act now because the school and the recreation board may not exist in the near future.

Mr. Quigley said there are organizational matters that must be worked through, but “we’re not going to fail” in our efforts.

“At the end of the day, I think you’re going to be proud of what we do,” Mr. Quigley said. “It’s time for the adults to take care of the problems and the kids to have fun. Let’s end the division.”

Joseph Koziol Jr. started his career in journalism in 1981. He joined the Solon Times in 1992 and covered the city of Solon for 10 years. An award winning reporter, Mr. Koziol has been covering Geauga County since 2012.

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