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Deer hunt protesters vocal at meeting

CANFIELD — Mill Creek MetroParks commissioners tried to conduct regular business Monday evening during their regular meeting, and they largely succeeded until they reached the public comment portion of the agenda.

Citizens filled McMahon Hall at the MetroParks Farm in Canfield, and when the time came to speak, they overwhelmingly voiced their continued opposition to the deer hunt the board recently sanctioned.

The board remained mostly silent and allowed commentators to make the most of their allotted three minutes, even as they castigated board members and Executive Director Aaron Young, wielding epithets like “killers” and calling the hunt a slaughter.

One man threatened to rally votes to oust Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu, whose legal responsibilities include appointing the park’s board members. Another said some citizens wanted to apply to join the board and replace some of the existing commissioners.

“Everybody has the right to come and speak,” said Board President Lee Frey. “We try to pay attention to them, because that’s their time, and it is my intent and the board’s intent to answer their questions.”

But Frey drew the line when one woman verbally attacked natural resources manager Nick Derico.

Janet Bernard criticized Young for not showing up to a recent court hearing before a visiting magistrate, who ultimately ruled to allow the hunt.

In doing so, she called Derico the board’s scapegoat and even said she felt sorry for him, before attacking his competency at his job.

“You’re tasked with so many jobs in this park, and you’re not qualified for any of them,” she said.

At that point, Frey cut off the rest of Bernard’s statement and Mill Creek Park police stepped forward to escort her from the podium.

“We will not slander the staff, so if that’s what you want to do, that is what will happen,” Frey said about cutting off Bernard’s comments.

Others spoke more calmly, but just as passionately.

Katelynn D’Amico of Boardman spoke with her 3-year-old son in her arms and 5-year-old daughter at her side.

She lamented the risk of poachers exploiting the sanctioned hunting rules and said she worries about her children. D’Amico said her mother’s backyard in Huntington Woods abuts the park and she often takes the children for walks.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of people around here who do the wrong thing, and I don’t feel safe going into the park or walking through my mom’s back yard,” she said. “And what if they come across a deer with an arrow in its head? That would be traumatizing.”

D’Amico said she feels Youngstown has lost its last great asset.

“I always defend this area by talking about our beautiful park,” she said. “Now I don’t know how to defend it because this one really great thing we have is going down the tubes.”

When the public comment period closed, Frey called an end to the meeting, to loud objections. Afterward, he said there was little point in letting the meeting continue.

“There are just some people that, as soon as we start to answer, they won’t let us,” he said. “All we’re asking for is the same courtesy we give them. Let us answer. You may not like the answer but at least let us give you an answer.”

Commissioners and Young did speak with some citizens individually after the meeting, but they also waited in the hall until the building and parking lot were largely cleared, and Mill Creek police escorted each of them to their vehicles.

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