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Deer group gathers over attack strategy

Lawyer: ‘Win the hearts and minds of folks’

Attorney Marc Dann, former Ohio attorney general, is shown speaking to about 100 people connected to the Save the Mill Creek Park Deer group Tuesday night at the St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church hall on Belle Vista Avenue.

YOUNGSTOWN — “The most likely way for this deer culling to change or be canceled is for the park board to make that decision on their own,” attorney Marc Dann told about 100 people attending a meeting of the Save the Mill Creek Park Deer group Tuesday night.

“If there is a way to prod them by a lawsuit, with your help, I am going to try to find out what that is,” he said at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church hall on Belle Vista Avenue. “But I think the most important thing is to win the hearts and minds of folks.”

The group is working with Dann, a former Ohio Attorney General and former state senator, to try to reverse the decision last week by the Mill Creek MetroParks Board to go forward with a plan to reduce the number of deer in the MetroParks.

Dann started out his presentation by saying he has been asked to create some legal strategies, but he admits that “From a legal standpoint, this is a bit of an uphill battle. A lot is going to depend on what claims exist, what the genuine harm might be to certain individuals and their property.”

He said the group has created a Google form for people living close to the parks to fill out to describe “what harm you think will come from the deer culling plan as proposed.”

He said they need to describe “harm to you because nonprofits do not have standing to bring a lawsuit here. Individuals potentially have standing to bring a lawsuit.”

To challenge the MetroParks board’s decision, the group has to have “standing, a right to bring the claim,” he said. “You have to have some sort of relationship with the harm that is about to come, and you have to be in a position to suffer concrete damages.”

He said under Ohio law, MetroPark Board members are appointed by the county’s probate judge, Robert Rusu. “Once they are appointed, they operate autonomously,” Dann said. “There is no ability to appeal their decisions,” as a person could if the Ohio Legislature or Youngstown City Council passed a law that people disagreed with.

He said to prove that property values will drop because of the deer reduction plan, an expert will be needed, such as an appraiser or real estate professional.

But even before that step, “We need to identify whether there are people in this group that have standing to bring the case.” The form asks for the person to fill out the parts of the form that ask for name, email, address, phone number and answer this question: “What are your specific and concrete concerns about risks to people or property related to the proposal to cull deer in Mill Creak Park?” It also asks if the person shares a property line with a park property.

Another question is whether the person knows of any organizations or individuals that have evidence or data that would be contrary to the proposed deer culling plan.

He gave an example of a person who has told him he’s concerned that while the hunting is going on, he will not have the enjoyment of his back yard and his pets and family members will be at risk. “That’s the kind of thing a plaintiff in a lawsuit needs to have to bring a lawsuit,” Dann said.

He said he hopes that the fact that “we are looking at this so thoughtfully and doing it so carefully and doing our homework and our research will cause the people on the Mill Creek Park Board to reconsider their decision.”

The group also needs an expert who can challenge the numbers the park board has provided of the deer in the parks. He said the group also does not have all of the public records he has requested from the park.

“We may have to bring a lawsuit under the public records law to make sure we get the photographs that were used as the basis for determining” the number of deer. The MetroParks has said a nighttime survey by aircraft determined there are 387 deer per square mile in the parks.

Dann said he knows members of the park board, and he believes they think they are doing the right thing.

He urged the audience to “engage those five people either formally through their meetings or outside of their meetings in a constructive manner to ask them to continue this dialogue and to take a breath and take a step back.” He said he believes the group has several months until the deer hunts will begin.

“I think this is an opportunity for this community to show how constructive and purposefully and fact based a conversation about a political issue can be with goal of getting well intended people to admit they may have made a mistake,” he said.

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