Tuesday, August 16, 2016
By Jordyn Grzelewski
The Mill Creek MetroParks board put on hold a motion that would have stripped the park director of some of his authority, prompting outcry from some members of the public who attended the board meeting at the MetroParks Farm on Monday night.
Board member Tom Shipka presented a motion stating that the board “must approve in a public session of a board meeting, prior to implementation, any proposal, plan, or decision of the executive director of the Mill Creek MetroParks, which has a significant impact on the employees, services, programs, or facilities of the Mill Creek MetroParks, including but not limited to, the budget, capital improvements, reorganization, restructuring, retrenchment, reassignment, labor agreements and property acquisition.”
The motion would have changed a job description for the executive director that was approved by the board at a Feb. 8 meeting, just days before park Director Aaron Young implemented a staff restructuring that cut numerous positions. He privately discussed the reorganization with board members before implementing it; the board did not vote on it.
Shipka has been critical of the decision by the board, of which he was not a member at the time, to relinquish some of its authority to the executive director.
“That is not a healthy arrangement, especially in a tax-supported public park,” he said Monday. He added that he would not have a problem hearing proposals that might require tough calls – such as an internal reorganization – but believes those types of decisions should be OK’d by the board and approved in public.
“What I am aiming at is establishing the precedent, as policy, that the board is in charge of this park,” he said.
The proposal was tabled, however, after board member Germaine Bennett motioned to do so, citing ongoing litigation in which the MetroParks is involved as the reason. She was joined in voting in favor of tabling the motion by board members John Ragan and Bob Durick; Shipka and Lee Frey were opposed.
The MetroParks board, Young and several current and former board members are being sued by three area residents who allege that park leaders violated state open-meetings law in their planning and implementation of the internal reorganization.
In other business, the board approved a motion to make applications for new standing advisory committees available in print and online, effective immediately.
The committees are the product of a motion proposed last month by Shipka that empanels nine five-person committees to advise the board on a number of policy issues, including wildlife, labor relations and finance. Applications will be available at www.millcreekmetroparks.org
Also in other business Monday, the board voted to terminate its lease agreement with Friends Specialty, which operates the Garden Cafe at Fellows Riverside Gardens. Four board members voted in favor of the motion; Shipka abstained, citing his personal relationship with relatives of the cafe operators as a conflict.
Park leaders were tight-lipped about the reason for the lease termination, citing legal issues.
Young said it is due to the vendor’s “failure to abide by the terms and conditions of the lease agreement.”
Friends Specialty took over operations of the cafe after being awarded a three-year contract in December 2014. Friends has two other locations – in Salem and in downtown Youngstown.
Young said he expects to present the board with a recommendation for a different vendor at the next board meeting. Friends Specialty will be notified today of the decision, and will have 10 days to vacate the cafe.
The next MetroParks board meeting will be at 6 p.m., Sept. 12 at the MetroParks Farm.