Parks needs new leadership

By now most folks know about the Geauga Park District’s purchase of the Wicked Woods golf course.

The Babcocks purchased the course about three years ago for $798,200. They sold it to the district for $1.5 million. Pretty nice profit. I know the Babcocks invested additional money on the clubhouse, but they likely also made substantial money on timber sales on the property. Why didn’t the district make an effort to buy the property three years ago? Might have been nice to acquire the property at half the price and before the wonderful old growth trees were hauled away.

Prior to the Grendell era, the district had an assistant director whose primary responsibility was land acquisition. He resigned shortly after Director Tom Curtin’s contract was not renewed, likely because the writing was on the wall that land acquisition was no longer important to management. No one was hired to replace him, and still there is essentially no one with extensive land acquisition experience with the district.

One might wonder if because of this poor and inappropriate management, I will be against the district renewal levy that will be on the ballot likely next November. I am absolutely in favor of the levy. I don’t like taxes anymore than any of you, and I feel we have far too much reliance on taxes being property taxes. However the district does not have any other real option for funding other than the property tax. As it stands, the commissioners have decreased the millage on this renewal levy at a time when all their expenses and responsibilities are increasing. Any future dollar increase needed likely would require a new levy, and new levies are extremely difficult to pass.

Commissioner Jackie Dottore admitted at the last commissioners meeting that the park district is deficit spending about $600,000 per year and possible cuts will not make up for even a small fraction of this deficit. Commissioner Andrej Lah voted against the takeover of Russell parks property (you can view a video of them discussing this at the Dec. 11 meeting at protectgeaugaparks.us). Why then did all three commissioners vote to reduce the upcoming renewal levy by 0.1 mill? In addition to necessary expected increases for the existing Geauga parks, the Russell and Wicked Woods additions will require additional funding. Just one more example of management and leadership that makes little sense.

What the district vitally does need is new leadership that prioritizes protecting disappearing natural areas, endangered species, wetlands and forests of our county. A key to that change in leadership will be a new probate judge since the probate judge appoints our park commissioners. You folks will have an opportunity to elect a probate judge that values natural areas as our precious heritage and not as an institution for providing citizen amusement and management self-enrichment. Many of us will be counting the days until November 2020.

John G. Augustine

West Farmington

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