What’s going on at Spillway?
In the spring of 2008, two childhood friends and I purchased the old paper mill on Cleveland Street in Chagrin Falls. The facility sat vacant, unsafe and for sale for many years before my partners and I purchased this beautiful forgotten parcel.
The property (owned by Spillway LLC) was zoned light industrial with a residential overlay. We favored a mixed-use development. Our plans also called for an easement connecting Riverside Park to Whitesburg Park. We knew we needed different zoning unless we intended to re-open a paper mill. We applied for a special election and the results were strongly in our favor; 953 votes for, 88 votes against.
A global financial crisis followed. Funding dried up and recovery was cautious and slow. This also happened to be one of our greatest periods of investment. I do understand that no one forced us to take on this risk.
Shortly after Mayor William Tomko was elected, one of my partners introduced himself and our project. The mayor told him he would make certain that our plan never came to life. This is the same plan that residents supported overwhelmingly in an election.
We understand that we may not be the people who bring this project to life. When we are approached by a potential buyer, we recommend that they have a dialogue with the mayor. The buyer always comes back with the same message: The village thinks you are the problem. The village’s conduct is doing the opposite of helping us. It’s hurting us.
On reading at a recent Chagrin Falls Village Council meeting was proposed ordinance 2019-31 amending and planning a comprehensive revision of the planning and zoning code and amending the zoning map of the village.
Part of the general irritability from the crowd stemmed from the fact that no one was notified that the issue was already on third reading, meaning that there would be a vote at the end of the evening. If we hadn’t shown up, it would have been too late to object. When I stood up and asked the law director why no one was notified, I was told that I was misinformed. This is the actual language of their own code. “Codified Ordinance section 1109.09 section “a” sub paragraph (3), states that neighboring properties within 300 feet need to be notified by First Class mail a minimum of 15 days prior to any hearing.”
A particularly bothersome piece of that ordinance was a comprehensive revision of the planning and zoning code. This proposal would eliminate most of the zoning on our property that sailed through a special election and would make the entire property attached single family. Slipping in a rezoning of our property without notice is unacceptable. It’s particularly unacceptable when voters approved the zoning. Taken together, the administration’s hostility and attempt to rezone our property under cover of night is shocking, extremely concerning and not the way local government or any government should behave.
Unfortunately, I have some experience here. A couple of years ago the village was attempting to change some significant zoning on our property. I showed up and asked why we weren’t notified. I was told all that they had to do was post it on the Village Hall bulletin board. Our property was the only affected property on that reading. They couldn’t make one call, or send one email? We were told that later on if we still needed those uses we could come back and ask for them. These were uses that we already had in place.
I know this letter will not improve my standing at Village Hall. We have been told through the years to do whatever is necessary to keep the peace with the Village for the project’s sake. I suppose you could say I have hit my limit. This is unacceptable and I wanted to be sure the public understood what was going on.
Over the years that we have owned this property, we have sunk millions of dollars into hard costs and discovery. It’s shameful that a person with an agenda contrary to what voters approved would go to such lengths.
My mother taught me to be kind, and my father taught me to me accountable. I am trying to pass that on to my four children, along with some additional advice. When something doesn’t feel right and there is evidence to support that feeling, resist.
Is this quiet cowardice?
We have a president who recently called for four U.S. congresswomen of color who are all U.S. citizens (three of whom are native born) to leave this country and return to where they came from.
Interestingly, Ohio’s congressional members who support the president have been silent on these presidential tweets. Pundits say that is because they fear retribution from the White House even if they privately believe that this kind of racism is wrong.
Could it be that they have a serious case of quiet cowardice?
Judge explains actions
It was neither my intent nor purpose to threaten anyone, but rather to explain the court process that I subsequently had to take after being informed that the Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court’s fiscal staff would be arrested if they ever visited the Geauga County Auditor’s fiscal office in the future, to assure that the court can pay its vendors for vital services such as child protective services, guardians for vulnerable seniors, statutorily required appointed counsel for the county’s mentally ill and therapeutic services for troubled youth – without interference from the county auditor’s office. Nonetheless, I have sent Chardon City police Lt. Troy Duncan a letter to apologize for any possible misunderstanding that may have occurred when I explained to him the procedures I was going to take to ensure that my court personnel could still conduct statutorily required official court business in a public area within a public office. I am writing now to apologize in case anyone else may have perceived my explanation as a threat.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of ongoing issues the court’s fiscal staff have encountered with the county auditor’s office. The auditor has delayed or denied payment of over 100 invoices for such public purposes as child protective services, guardians for vulnerable seniors, statutorily required appointed counsel and therapeutic services for troubled youth. The auditor has delayed posting purchase orders, preventing payment of invoices for over 140 days. The auditor has made allegations against court staff, some of which the state auditor has already determined to be unsubstantiated. The difficulties the court staff has encountered because of the county auditor’s restrictive demands and delays in simple accounting procedures are resulting in finance charges, collections and a lawsuit against the county auditor by four county court vendors.
I would like to find an effective way to work with the Auditor’s Office, to ensure that court vendors are paid promptly for the services that they render for Geauga County residents. State Auditor Keith Faber offered to help mediate the court vendor payment issues involving the county auditor’s office. I readily accepted the state auditor’s offer to mediate. Unfortunately, I was advised by the State Auditor that County Auditor Charles Walder refused his offer of assistance: “… unfortunately you[r] local Auditor [Walder] was not [willing to mediate]… we have expressed our displeasure with him and his association over this decision.”
Because I am committed to ensuring the Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court provides the best possible service to this community, I remain willing to engage in a meaningful process to facilitate the proper processing of the invoices from the court’s vendors. I invite the county auditor to reconsider his refusal to have the state auditor mediate these issues.
Judge Timothy J. Grendell
Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court
Information better than rumors
Kudos to Times columnist/reporter Barbara Christian for shining a light on recent village government-proposed zoning laws. The exclusion of residents’ input or even notification of the property owners affected is disquieting, to say the least. No wonder property owners are upset about this. Then there is the collective amnesia of Chagrin Falls village government officials concerning the origin of the these controversial new regulations. It’s enough to make residents wonder what is going on over at Village Hall.
Proper notification of zoning changes is the issue here. The proposed regulations may be a good idea, but we should not have to rely on social media and rumors to get information about something as important as zoning law changes.
Court only conducts official business
The Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court only is interested in conducting official business as required and authorized by law, and would like to work with the auditor to that end. Auditor [Charles] Walder’s fluctuating and increasingly restrictive demands and delays in simple accounting procedures are resulting in finance charges, collections and a lawsuit against Mr. Walder by four vendors.
To the extent the court’s efforts to jump the auditor’s unpredictable hurdles has offended anyone, the court and Judge [Timothy] Grendell extend a sincere apology.
About the auditor’s ongoing dispute, Ohio Auditor [Keith] Faber wrote to Judge Grendell, “We were and still are willing to mediate this dispute... You [Judge Grendell] were graciously willing to [do] this but unfortunately you[r] local Auditor [Walder] was not… we have expressed our displeasure with him and his association over this decision.”
For the record, the court staff did not steal documents from, or cause a disturbance in, the county auditor’s office. The auditor’s staff gave court staff documents to sign, and when court staff requested a simple status update of a delayed payment to a vendor who provides protective supervision for children, they were told to leave. Court staff asked if they could take the documents with them to finish signing and return them, and they were told by auditor’s staff, “yes.”
Judge Grendell never threatened or yelled at the lieutenant, as Kate Jacob falsely claimed. The lieutenant stated that court staff would be arrested if they ever enter the public space within the auditor’s office to conduct official court business. Judge Grendell explained, to allow the court to function, he had no choice but to write an administrative order authorizing and directing staff to continue to perform official court duties, and anyone who impeded them would knowingly violate a court order and face the consequences. The lieutenant then asked Judge Grendell if he was going to arrest him. Judge Grendell said, “no.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Opinion, “under the principle of separation of powers, a county auditor may not exercise the prerogatives of his or her office so as to … involve an exercise of excessive control which compromises the integrity and independence of the court, or which creates an impediment to the proper discharge of the court’s judicial functions.”
Unfortunately Auditor Walder has exercised “excessive control.”
The court provides invoices for its expenditures, unless they contain statutorily required confidential information.
The auditor has delayed or denied payment of over 100 legitimate court expenditures, for child protective services, guardians for vulnerable seniors, statutorily required appointed counsel and therapeutic services for troubled youth.
The auditor has delayed posting purchase orders, preventing payment of invoices for over 140 days.
The auditor filed false allegations, which the State Auditor found to be “unsubstantiated.”
The court’s financial records are completely transparent and subject to a state audit. The county auditor cannot dictate how the court provides services to the residents of Geauga County, through controlling the purse strings, as such abuse of executive power would give the county auditor excessive control over the court.
Geauga Probate/Juvenile Court administrator
Story hits high note
I was leaving the coffee shop on the Chardon Square, coffee in one hand and a bakery sack with a couple of muffins in the other. About that time, I heard a voice calling me. It was my friend Binky Barnes. Binky had vaulted from his semi- permanent seat on the park bench directly across the street from the courthouse annex. Binky occupies the location daily following his career of feeding the pigeons. I was kind of nervous watching Binky dart across the street but the cars seemed to part like when Moses parted the Red Sea. He stopped in front of me and paused a moment to catch his breath. He was excited to tell me all about the events that happened here a couple of weeks ago.
He said folks had it all wrong about that judge. He said he was sitting right across the street feeding the pigeons and he saw and heard it all. He saw a policeman come out of one of those doors across the street with that man and woman. The policeman was talking to them. The man and woman were speaking ever so politely to the police officer. Just about that time that judge came running out of one of the other doors. He was in an awful hurry and when the policeman stopped him he began yelling. He said that he was late for his midday church choir practice. That was why he had that robe on. Binky said he had heard that the judge was in great demand for church choirs because he had a five octave range all the way from basso profondo to a high C falsetto. He was yelling at the policeman about being late for choir practice. He told the policeman that he needed to get there right away. Then that judge calmed down a bit and said he could get the policeman into the choir and said he would issue a court order. I asked Binky if he was sure that this story was true. He said absolutely and that he was telling it just like the judge told him to. I looked at Binky and he looked a little embarrassed and began to shuffle his feet. I handed him my bakery bag with the muffins in it and told him that the pigeons were probably still hungry. Binky gave me a satisfied grin and he walked off back to his seat on the park bench. As I watched him go I began to wonder just how many pigeons there are in Geauga County.