By Jordyn Grzelewski
The Mill Creek MetroParks board of commissioners appointed a new executive director, effective by year’s end.
The five commissioners unanimously voted at a public meeting Monday night to hire Aaron Young to replace Dennis Miller, who is leaving the park after a 17-year career there to take over as golf director at The Lake Club in Poland.
Some members of the public, however, raised concern the board did not allow public input in the selection process.
Members of the anti-fracking advocacy group Guardians of Mill Creek Park said the board did not provide the public with adequate information about the final candidates for the position before Young’s appointment.
Out of the 27 candidates commissioners said they vetted, three did a final round of interviews in an executive-session meeting Saturday. The board announced its decision just before Monday’s public meeting.
“We actually went into executive session for almost five hours on Saturday,” said board president Lou Schiavoni. “We still came out not really knowing [whom we were going to select]. We kind of got our collective minds together, talked some on Sunday, and just decided Aaron’s the man,” Schiavoni said.
Ohio’s Sunshine Law precludes the board from making a decision at an executive session. The phone calls on Sunday may have been a violation of the law, and would nullify Young’s appointment.
Schiavoni said the board considered having the final candidates do public presentations, but ultimately decided against it.
The other two candidates were Justin Rogers, Mill Creek MetroParks’ planning manager, and Anthony Trevena, former deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“I believe it would have caused more divisiveness because maybe one group would have liked Aaron, maybe one group would have liked Justin [Rogers], and maybe one group would have liked [Anthony] Trevena,” Schiavoni said. “We just thought that it was in our best interests to let [Young] go. He’s going to be the face of the park, he’ll be able to answer any questions they pose to him.”
Young, 40, of Braceville Township, comes to the park system from the Geauga Park District, where he was the director of planning and operations. He started at the Geauga Park District in 2005 as a planner, became director of planning in 2006 and took his current position in September.
Contract negotiations between Young and the park board will take place this week, and Young likely will take over by the end of the month, Schiavoni said.
Schiavoni said Young’s annual salary will be about $90,000. The board has not determined the duration of his contract.
“He has a management-planning background. He has management experience. He’s done quite a bit with Geauga, and we know we got the right guy,” Schiavoni said of why the board chose Young.
Young said it is too early to say what he envisions for the park system.
“It’s premature to say that I have a vision without the luxury of meeting with all the staff, and see what they’re looking at,” he said. “It’s going to depend on the board.”
Miller started working at the park in 1998. He served as head golf professional, golf director and then took over as executive director in 2012.
He delivered a tearful farewell at the meeting, noting some of the highlights of his tenure as executive director.
“My most meaningful accomplishments during my time with the MetroParks, I believe, were the improvements to the golf course. My heart and soul went into the golf course for many years, and I’m proud to have played a part in making that great course what it is today,” he said.
Reductions in expenditures, addressing the needs of the park’s infrastructure, taking care of the trails, improving the Lily Pond, and helping the Ford Nature Center survive are things Schiavoni said Miller did to improve the park system.
The meeting at one point devolved into a heated exchange between board members and Lynn Anderson, a member of the Guardians group.
Anderson accused the board of giving in to demands from oil and gas companies, a claim that Miller and board members vehemently denied.
“There’s no fracking going on in the park. And it’s not coming,” Schiavoni said.