Monday, September 1, 2014

Residents Applaud Park District Efforts
July 1, 2014 by Josh Echt | No Comments

Support of the parks is crucial, district says

The park's original intended use was as a park, dating back to 1811

“You took the time to come out and attend a public meeting instead of watching the NBA draft,” Russell Township resident Mary Jane Trapp told several teens at the back of a packed room at Chester Township Fire Station as the audience laughed.

The youth — mostly West Geauga alums — nodding their heads in agreement with Trapp, who spoke about the importance of Chester Township’s Parkside Park and what it meant to them during last Thursday’s Chester Township Park District meeting.

“Word gets out and we just have a lot of people come out and have fun,” said Gino Iacampo, a 2013 West Geauga graduate. “We play volleyball two to three nights here. It’s not what most high-school and college students do; they go to parties. It’s a great park.”

Trapp, a former court of appeals judge, presided over the meeting and served as the park district’s master commissioner. Both she and the five-member park board listened to residents discuss the park’s role in the township.

Residents showed up at the meeting in light of a 2013 report residents Ron and Cathy Cotman submitted to township officials containing allegations against park board members and the district itself.

Trapp, appointed by county Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Tim Grendell March 20, discussed the nature of the park district and its relationship with township government and her review of the report.

What is Parkside Park?

The park, which sits at the corner of state Route 306 and U.S. Route 322, contains volleyball courts, baseball fields, horseshoe pits and a gazebo. Trustees specified the 7-acre zone be used as a park as far back as 1811, said former township Trustee and Zoning Inspector Mike Joyce.

Trapp said trustees regulate most township park boards in the state, known as “Chapter 511” park boards.

However, in some cases, like Chester Township, the entity is independent and goes by a different name — known as a “Chapter 1545” park district — while answering to the county probate/juvenile court judge.

“It’s fully separate,” she said of the township’s park district. “It answers to Judge Grendell, not the trustees.”

The township’s park district was formed in 1984, and, until last week, had three members.

Grendell swore in two new members, Al Parker and Ruth Philbrick, who will respectively serve two- and one-year terms.

Once their terms are up, they are subsequently eligible for three-year terms, Grendell said.

This spring, the Cotmans presented a report to trustees and fiscal officer Craig Richter highlighting concerns about the park district.

However, the composers of the report were anonymous, Trapp said.

Consequently, the matter was brought to Grendell’s attention. He then appointed Trapp, an independent party, to investigate the report, which is public record.

“I got the copy of the review, read it over and started tracking down as much information as possible,” she said.

She said she would try to have her review of the report complete between July 1 and July 30.

In doing her review, she also looked at meeting minutes dating back to 1984 to get a comprehensive overview of the park district’s history.

The only meeting minutes missing are from 2008, Trapp added.

Park District Commissioner Lance Yandell said he received three to four letters of support from residents regarding the park.

Terri Stupica, Iacampo’s mother and a Chester resident, said the parks were a good way of keeping students out of trouble.

Accompanying Stupica and Iacampo were former West Geauga student-athletes including Cal Slusarz, Brianne Sexton and Michael Duffy.

“I’m a mother to him, but also to 200 of his friends,” Stupica joked. “Our house is the hangout for my son and his friends. When they are not my house, they are at the park.”

Trapp also said the park district is being audited as part of the process. She told the audience both the report and her review of the report will be made public record.

Resident Pat Mula said she was “sad” about the situation. The former trustee said when she was on the board, it worked hard to improve the parks despite funding issues.

Yandell said he and his fellow commissioners put in hundreds of hours to make the parks better.

“That’s hard to take. It’s disappointing when people make innuendos,” Yandell said.

Joe Weiss Jr., park district president and a local attorney, said the parks have benefited his personal family members.

“When I look in the crowd and see my nephew there and my daughter, Wendy (Asher), I see people (who) have been impacted by parks,” the attorney said.

Asher, who works with her father in a law office, said he cruises the park often and keeps its appearance up. She also said the community’s donations have helped fund it.

However, other residents said some issues need to be fixed. Former Fiscal Officer and Kristine Drive resident Karen Austin, who served as the township from 2004 to 2012, said trustees at the time decided to forego inside millage and keep it for the township.

“They took away the park district’s funding,” she said. “Maybe if the inside millage was returned to the park district, it would help these people.”

Resident Judy Caputo said she asked where the trustees were, as they were not at the park district meeting. A few people told her they were in the town hall next door.

“The reason the trustees are not here is because they are in an executive session,” added resident Dal Lanese.

The Other Side of the Story

Last Friday, Chester Trustee Mike Petruziello said he reached out to the park district and met with Weiss around March 11, a week after he and other trustees received a copy of the report.

“The report indicated procedures to spend taxpayers funds were not being followed,” Petruziello said.

The trustee said he met with Weiss for 90 minutes to discuss the issue. After the meeting, he said he felt it was going to be handled and the problem would go away due to Weiss telling him he would follow proper procedures.

“At no time did any trustee feel this was going to be a problem, since I was assured by Weiss at our meeting it would be taken care of,” the trustee said, adding he then found out March 20 about the appointment of Trapp as master commissioner.

The trustees subsequently asked the park district to establish a funding process that would accommodate the needs of the district. At that time, the funding would be available by the township for the park district’s needs.

To date, the park district has received all the funding it has requested, except $4,000 for volleyball netting that still needs to be installed.

The trustees asked for more quotes on this item, but have not received them as of June 30, Petruziello said.

He said the township has issued three checks so far this year to the park district, which include a $12,839.50 check April 11, a $21,348.90 amount May 2 and an $8,250 check June 27.

The June 27 check is less $4,000 due to lack of price quotes about the netting, he added.

“Once quotes are sent to the trustees, they will process the funding,” Petruziello said. “Parkside is a gem in the heart of the community and for anyone to say the trustees will not support this is a total misinformation campaign that needs to stop.”

At the end of the meeting, Joe Mazzurco, of H&M Landscaping, said he wished the community would just get along.

“It shames me when the center of the park and the school — important items of the community — cannot keep the community together,” Mazzurco said.

Chardon resident LouAnn Marx said she became a believer in the importance of parks after visiting the 2013 Chesterfest celebration.

“Thank you for all you do,” said Marx, a regional marketing director at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center.

She then gave a sobering perspective on its impact on youth.

“It’s important. Youth don’t talk to each other in person anymore; they talk with their cell phones,” Marx added. “This park enables them to connect with others in person.

“Four people a day come through our doors due to overdose and drug-related issues. We need this park.”

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