It’s not every day that Republicans and Democrats come up on the same side of an issue, especially one that has drawn a firestorm of attention statewide.
But that appears to be the case with Ohio House Bill 218 introduced by Rep. William Seitz, R-Cincinnati, on May 16. The bill was referred to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee on May 23, where testimony now is being heard.
The bill would amend section 1545.06 of the Ohio Revised Code to expand a probate court’s powers and duties with regard to park districts. It would allow a probate judge to investigate park district matters, order a person to become party to these proceedings and have the discretion to tax the cost of proceedings “as court costs to be assessed by the court in its discretion,”among other expanded powers.
This isn’t the first time this issue has surfaced in the House. Rep. Seitz attempted to add a similar amendment to the biennium state budget bill. Fortunately it was removed.
Many people have said on the record that Rep. Seitz is friends with Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell and is doing his bidding. The two served together in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Proponents say the bill puts into writing a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that involved Chester Township Trustees, the Chester park board and Judge Grendell. The High Court held that a probate judge does not lack jurisdiction to issue orders attempting to correct activities by park board members and township trustees that may be contrary to the original purpose of the park district.
But just a few weeks ago, the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Grendell exceeded his authority in handling two issues with the Chester Park District – imposing costs of a master commissioner against Chester Township and interceding between the township and park district over a contract dispute.
This puts a different spin on the matter of lawmakers expanding judicial powers.
Opponents say HB 218 goes too far and that it’s a reaction to issues boiling over in Geauga County but nowhere else in the state. Judge Grendell has been at odds with a number of groups over purpose of parks and park operations on both county and township levels.
Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz said the bill contains unconstitutional and vague language that would allow a court to investigate matters going against the judicial canons of ethical conduct.
The Geauga County Democratic Party Executive Committee last week approved a resolution opposing HB 218. Chairwoman Janet Carson said the bill isn’t needed statewide and local issues should be worked out through discussions and mediation, if necessary.
On Tuesday night, the Geauga County Republican Executive Committee also came out against HB 218. Among those voicing opposition were Chester Trustee Kenneth Radtke and party Chairwoman and Chardon Mayor Nancy McArthur. The committee of 39 people voted unanimously to oppose the bill.
We are concerned about the possibility of judicial overreach that this bill could allow. We agree that probate courts don’t need these additional powers. The law on the books is clear. Impartial probate judges make sure the park districts are created legally, appoint board members and then step back so park commissioners can do their jobs.