Park Board Votes 2-1 Against Renewing Director’s Contract
"Prior to the vote being taken, I asked if there was any discussion and there wasn't any." – Jim Patterson
After 14 years at the helm of the Geauga Park District, Executive Director Tom Curtin is out of a job.
On Thursday afternoon, the park district Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to not renew Curtin’s contract for 2014.
Park board President Jim Patterson cast the lone vote in favor of renewing Curtin’s contract, which pays him approximately $100,000 per year, according to the Geauga County Auditor’s Office.
Earlier that morning, Curtin was helping to raise money and canned goods for the annual Geauga Park District/United Way Turkey Bowl and Chili Cook-Off to benefit the county’s food pantries.
Hours later, Curtin, his wife and son were seen cleaning out his office at the Donald W. Meyer Center at Big Creek Park in Chardon Township. He was placed on paid administrative leave, subject to performance of possible special projects at the request of the board, until the end of 2013.
“The board took action not to renew my contract for 2014,” Curtin said in an email to park district staff.
“I would like to thank each one of you for all you have done during my tenure as executive director. Everything that we have accomplished has been due to the team effort of the park district employees, the foundation and our volunteers.”
He added, “I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the park district’s history during the past 14 years and to have been involved with the many projects, programs and expansions we’ve accomplished together.”
Park district Director of Operations John Oros unanimously was named interim deputy director, a post that had gone unfilled since Keith McClintock left the park district in January to become vice president of conservation for Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
McClintock had served as deputy director since 1999.
“Prior to the vote being taken, I asked if there was any discussion and there wasn’t any,” Patterson said Thursday night, adding he told fellow commissioners Mike Petruziello and Nick Fischbach that he had something to say.
“I had made a two-page list of accomplishments that the park board has done during Tom’s tenure. And I went through each of them one by one,” Patterson said, explaining he prepared the list following an executive session held during Tuesday’s regular park board meeting.
“And Tom would be the first one to say he didn’t do this alone,” added Patterson. “He would say it was because of the support of different individuals who were park commissioners, it was the work of the staff he surrounded himself with, it was the work of the volunteers and the foundation board.”
Patterson said he then called for the vote and it was 2-1, without Petruziello or Fischbach providing any comment.
“It’s too bad,” he added. “Geauga County park system is one of the finest in the state of Ohio and we have some things like Observatory Park that is being recognized nationally. All of these things happened during Tom’s tenure with the board.”
When reached after the meeting, Fischbach said the announcement came after a nearly 30-minute executive session during a special meeting called for Thursday afternoon.
Although Curtin will be paid through Dec. 31, he would no longer be working at the park district effective tomorrow, Fischbach said.
“We did not renew his contract,” he added. “He was not fired.”
The park district’s legal counsel, Chardon attorney David Ondrey, will be releasing a statement Friday morning, Patterson said.
“It will be very generic,” he added. “He will not get into the why.”
Petruziello credited Curtin with playing an important role in “putting the park district together,” but declined further comment.
“I can’t talk about it; he wasn’t fired, we’re just not renewing his contract,” Petruziello said.
In other park district business, Geauga County Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Tim Grendell told the Maple Leaf Thursday he will reappoint Patterson to another three-year term on the park board.
Patterson, who was first appointed by the late Judge Charles “Chip” Henry, said his “position now” is to accept the reappointment.
“I’m so supportive of the efforts of the park district, the efforts of our staff, all of the volunteers that we have and the foundation board,” he said. “We’ve raised a ton of money the last few years because of the support of the foundation. So, I want to continue to make Geauga park system an envy of everyone, something that people of the county are proud of.”
Grendell appointed Petruziello and Fischbach to the park board in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Patterson also said Petruziello might have to resign from the park board, based on an 1988 Ohio Attorney General opinion scan, as a result of his election in November as a Chester Township trustee.
“If you read that opinion, the question that is asked is, can a township trustee also serve as a county park commissioner? And the answer is, very clear, it’s incompatible,” Patterson said. “Mike has to decide whether he is going to assume the office that he was just elected to or is he going to resign as park commissioner. He has to make that decision.”
Petruziello said his reading of the relevant Ohio Attorney General’s opinion does not preclude him from holding both offices.
“As I interpret it, we’re not competing for tax dollars for the (township) parks in Chesterland. We don’t have a tax levy for parks,” he said. “There may be a conflict of interest if you’re competing for tax dollars. Since Chesterland does not have a tax levy for parks, we’re not competing for dollars.”
If he is asked to resign from the park board after being sworn in as a township trustee, Petruziello said he will “deal with it.”
“It’s only an opinion from 1988 and opinions can be challenged,” he added. “I guess you could argue it both ways, but since there’s no tax levies dealing with park in Chesterland, I don’t know how it could be construed as a conflict of interest.”
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