Mill Creek MetroParks responds to complaints

Deer supporters appeal ruling

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mill Creek MetroParks board and executive director have responded to the issues a visiting judge in Mahoning County Probate Court asked them to address, saying its board of commissioners did act on the petitions a group of deer supporters presented to them Dec. 11 asking for executive director Aaron Young to be removed.

The commissioners stated in their May 9 filing that they “acknowledged the receipt of the petitions to remove” Young and that commissioners president Lee Frey stated at the March 11, 2024, meeting that the “board would not be acting on the petitions.”

The allegation of the deer group in a petition delivered to Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu Jr. asking for removal of the park commissioners in February was that the park commissioners “refused to act on the petition nor did they respond or address the petition to remove the director.”

Probate court judges in Ohio make appointments to various types of boards, including the board of commissioners of Mill Creek MetroParks.

The complaint about the MetroParks commissioners in relation to Young is that the board members “have failed to exercise due diligence in the performance of their duties to the public by merely ‘rubber stamping’ the decisions made by” Young.

But the board of commissioners’ response, filed with the probate court, states that the board “is well informed of any and all action needed to be taken or is taken by (Young) through open communication and sharing of information.”

The response denies the deer group’s allegations that there are “good grounds to remove the (park) commissioners based upon the reasons set forth” in the petition.

The group turned in about 2,500 signatures on the petition. Visiting Judge John Campbell has met with the deer group two times since he was appointed to the case. The result of the meetings was to suggest and get a fine-tuned version of the group’s complaints about the park board commissioners submitted to the board of commissioners, which they did. The judge specified the 11 points in the petition he wanted the park board to answer, which it did, through attorneys Gregory Beck and Andrea Ziarko of North Canton. Attorneys Marc Dann and Jeffrey Crossman of Dann Law of Cleveland and several other locations filed the revised complaint on behalf of the deer supporters.

Campbell, retired from Carroll County Common Pleas Court, was appointed to the case by the Ohio Supreme Court after Judge Rusu recused himself.

The complaint alleged that the park board “dismissed the petition” at the board’s March 11 meeting “stating on the record at an open meeting that dismissing (Young) was “not an option because he ‘makes money for us.'”

The park board’s response states that the board “has no record of the comment ‘makes money for us’ being made as part of the discussion during the March 11, 2024, public meeting of the board. However, … it is the responsibility of the executive director to seek and acquire third-party funding in support of the MetroParks.”

The park board’s response denies the deer supporters’ allegation that the parks board “dismissed reasonable safety concerns raised by constituents who live near or adjacent to park parcels.” The park board stated that the board “takes all claims regarding safety very seriously.” It added that “safety concerns were also taken into consideration as part of the discussion surrounding the approval of the Whitetail Deer Management Plan.”

The response references the MetroParks’ responses in the lawsuit that deer supporters filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

“This is further evident in the fact that zero safety related issues occurred during the implementation of the White Tailed Deer Management Plan,” it states. The implementation began Oct. 1 and ended in late January, resulting in 204 deer being killed and removed from the various areas of the MetroParks.

Judge Anthony Donofrio of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court recently affirmed the decision of his magistrate, Nicole Butler, in finding the deer plan lawful.

Dann late last week filed a notice of appeal of Judge Donofrio’s ruling with the 7th District Court of Appeals.

The MetroParks response to the deer petitions complaint continued to answer the 11 points in the complaint, including one that alleges that the parks board “refused to address concerns from constituents regarding police response times” to the Springfield Forest MetroPark.

The park board response states that Mill Creek Police Department Chief Randy Campana “responds on behalf of the board when requested by the board or administration to any inquiry regarding police response times to any MetroParks facility, including Springfield Forest.”

The MetroParks board also responded to the allegation that the MetroParks has “refused to respond to constituent complaints about the park bringing contractors from outside the county or pleas to hire local contractors.” The response was that the board “follows the public bidding requirements process outlined in Ohio Revised Code and carried out by the Planning & Operations Department within the MetroParks administration.”

The MetroParks responded to the allegation that Young “eliminated Mill Creek Park employees without justification” by denying that and adding that “an organizational restructure was completed in February 2016 (with) full knowledge of the board at the time.”

The park commissioners also denied the allegation that Young “eliminated much of the park’s programming,” saying “Young does not dictate either the community engagement or golf & recreation departments what types, quantities or schedule of programming or events are held.”

The commissioners’ response states that the “directors from each department are responsible for both the planning and implementation of programming throughout the MetroParks based upon attendance, popularity, return on investment, annual calendar, weather, local competition, among other issues.”

The commissioners’ response to issues regarding the Buckeye Horse Association was that the organization was “not abiding by the terms and conditions of the previous lease.”

As to the complaint that the park commissioners “are not responsive to community needs since they fail to account for public opinion,” the MetroParks board stated that the MetroParks “maintains a public comment period during the monthly public board meetings.”

The park commissioners also “maintain publicly accessible email addresses where any member of the public may send direct communications to each commissioner.” And the MetroParks administration “maintains open office hours where individuals may make in-person appointments and / or call or email for inquiries,” the response states.

Regarding the deer-reduction plan, the response states that “public input opportunities were announced at the Feb. 13, 2023, public board meeting with the creation and distribution of a marketing card with a QR code that when scanned with a mobile device, leads to a web page with a public survey.”

The board also has “several citizen-advisory committees on finance, natural resources, education and recreation. The board attempts to address inquiries made at public board meetings during commissioners time but often has to cut its responses short due to speaking out and overall general lack of decorum from the Save The Deer group.”

The complaint also addressed the manner in which the most recent appointments to the parks board were made, though Judge Campbell did not ask the MetroParks to respond to that issue.

The complaint stated that “Judge Rusu reappointed two parks commissioners (Jeff Harvey and Paul Olivier) despite assurances that a formal application process would be followed. Members of the public were not permitted to apply despite being directed to apply through the Probate Court.”

As a result, the park commissioners board is “not fully representative of the community at large in that it does not reflect alternative perspectives on park management and does not have sufficient diversity of members from across the many political subdivisions that comprise Mill Creek Park.”

The MetroParks response states that it is “without information or knowledge sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of (those) allegations” and denies that the park board is “not fully representative of the community at large.”


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