RUSSELL — Discussion about the Nov. 7 ballot issue for a new park district surfaced last week during a township meeting when a resident accused a trustee of being disrespectful to the county probate judge and trustees responded that they had a right to express their opinions on the park matter.
Residents are being asked to consider Issue 23 on Nov. 7 that would create a new park district under Ohio Revised Code chapter 511. Trustees would appoint these park board members.
This would be the second park district in the township. Russell Township Park District created in the 1980s under ORC chapter 1545, calls for the probate judge to appoint board members. Geauga County Juvenile and Probate Judge Timothy Grendell now holds that seat.
Over the last few years, residents have spoken out about the way the park district is being run especially since the original commissioners appointed by Judge Grendell eliminated the public comment portion of regular meetings.
On Oct. 13, a new political action committee filed paperwork with the Geauga County Board of Elections, calling itself “Committee to Protect Russell Township Parks.” The filing lists Cleveland Heights attorney Mark O’Brien as the treasurer of the PAC. According to board officials, the deadline for PACs to file their financial statements was Thursday. Board officials will then audit the statements.
A review of the Geauga County Auditor’s website did not show a Mark O’Brien owning property in Geauga County. When contacted by the Times for a comment, Mr. O’Brien said he is only the treasurer of the PAC and was not at liberty to speak about it or who is in charge.
A post card recently mailed to residents by the PAC, calls for a “no” on Issue 23.
A yes vote would support creating the new district. No funding mechanisms are attached to this ballot issue.
Russell Trustee Jim Mueller has made public comments critical of Judge Grendell’s involvement in a township park district.
At the Russell Township Trustee meeting on Oct. 18, resident Mary Beth Dale took exception to Mr. Mueller’s comments that Judge Grendell believes he is “all mighty” and his court room is his castle.
“I have never read such disrespectful comments. You work as our township trustee. You work for us, and what you say is out of our mouths,” Ms. Dale said.
“That was wrong,” she said. “You have no right saying those things about (Judge Grendell). It is disrespectful.” Ms. Dale acknowledged there have been problems involving the existing park district. “But would you like those things said about you in the paper?
“You have no right to say those things in that tone of voice,” she said. “You should give an apology and respect the position.”
Mr. Mueller said everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. It’s all politics, he added.
“I feel the township is being run like a dictatorship, Ms. Dale said. “It is getting worse and worse. They are telling everyone how wonderful the park district is going to be and it won’t cost money. Eventually, it is going to cost us money. They think the 1545 park district is going to be dismissed as soon as Issue 23 passes, but it is not going anywhere. Judge Grendell is the only one to make it go anywhere,” Ms. Dale said.
Mr. Mueller said after the Oct. 18 meeting, “The good news is Russell Township will go back to a nice quiet place after the election is over.
“In reality, my basic complaint is Judge Grendell came into Russell and staged a hostile takeover of our local park board,” Mr. Mueller said, referring to the existing park district. “He got rid of all three of the former park commissioners who collectively served over 45 years and replaced them with his appointees who opposed the acquisition of the Modroo property and they then tried to sell off 20 acres of parkland to a private individual for his estate,” he said.
“It is very clear the judge is not done with messing with Russell Township,” Mr. Mueller said. “And then he wonders why people get angry and it forces Russell Township residents to form a 511 park board whose board members will be appointed by their local trustees.
“The judge says he doesn’t have anything to do with these things and yet anytime you pull back the covers there he is, big as life causing trouble,” Mr. Mueller said.
Asked about Ms. Dale’s statement, Trustee Chairman Justin Madden said “Ms. Dale is afforded the same opportunity as any other Russell resident to express a point of view during the portion of our meeting called Comments from the Public, and she did. Residents are entitled to attend our meetings and share compliments, concerns or criticisms, in a civil manner.”
Many in Russell noted that the new PAC chose to name itself “Committee to Protect Russell Township Parks, similar to the “Protect Geauga Parks” group which has been at odds with Judge Grendell’s management of the Geauga County Parks.
Kathryn Hanratty, representing Protect Geauga Parks, put out a notice last week that Protect Geauga Parks, “wants to make it clear that a newly formed political action committee in Russell is using part of our name but they are in no way affiliated with our organization which does not support this outside organization nor its efforts or goals.”
Mr. Madden also noted the political action committee and the Protect Geauga Parks are “polar opposites.” As for the statements the PAC makes on the post card, Mr. Madden said many statements were wrong. “If the 511 passes, there will not be two parks, there will not be double taxation, there will not be dual purchases, and there will not be duplication of services.
“The mandate from many of our residents has been to dissolve the 1545 (park district) and put Russell parkland back under Russell control. That is what the Russell residents asked the trustees to do when we approached Geauga County Judge Forrest Burt for permission to put this on the ballot,” he said.
“Russell residents were fed up with the former 1545 appointees Charlie Butters and Linda O’Brien prohibiting public comment, squandering taxpayer monies, secretly trying to sell Russell public land to private purchasers, refusing to answer questions, and spending $400 an hour on legal counsel. That is what brought this issue to the front,” Mr. Madden said.