A partial explanation
“We were afraid we were going to get sued.”
There, was that so tough to say?
And it is exactly what the commissioners of the Mill Creek MetroParks should have said the first time they had the opportunity to explain why they gave David Imbrogno, the parks’ executive director for less than two years, a severance package that will keep him on the payroll and under the park system’s health-care coverage for 13 months. At Imbrogno’s annual salary of $90,000, the package is worth about $110,000.
Instead, two of the commissioners, Carl Nunziato and Jay Macejko, tried to paper over their differences with Imbrogno. The third commissioner, Virginia Dailey, did not support Imbrogno’s ouster.
After receiving a private lecture Friday from Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky on board comity and board transparency, the commissioners issued a statement that said a majority of the board decided to settle with Imbrogno to avoid potential legal costs. That contradicted an earlier comment by Nunziato that described the severance package as the gentlemanly thing to do.
The public may still have questions, but the statement is better than nothing. Most people understand being afraid of getting sued.
Not the way to communicate
Still, speaking through prepared statements is no way to run the public’s business. If someone is going to take on a public job, even an unpaid public job such as park commissioner, he or she must be willing to answer to the people. And that means answering questions raised by citizens at board meetings and questions posed by the press, which is there on the public’s behalf.
And the statement issued by the board is wrong when it declares: “It is worth noting that the executive session of any board is confidential and the business discussed therein cannot be disclosed.” The Ohio Sunshine Law handbook prepared by the Ohio Attorney General’s office states: “The Open Meetings Act does not prohibit the public body or one of its members from disclosing the information discussed in executive session.” There are exceptions to that, but none that would clearly apply to this case.
The public knows more about the expensive good-bye kiss Imbrogno got from the board than it did, but not as much as it should.
Belinky will be adding two members to the board and the new five-member board will have to convince Mahoning County voters that Mill Creek Park and the MetroParks system — indisputably jewels — are being managed in a way that merits continued taxpayer support.