Go Public With How We Pick Park Board (Viewpoint)
January 14, 2004
The Sandusky Register
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Erie Metroparks is a dynamic organization with programs and operations that, unlike many groups, impact the entire county in a variety of ways popular and not.
Its parks are natural wonders. Its programs offer diverse education for folks of all ages.
But it is also not your typical mom-and-pop non-profit.
It can seek its own taxes. It can go after property it deems vital for expansion. It can secure significant tax dollars and grants.
Given all of this, it seems a bit odd that the professional staff, the three directors and the judge who oversees the board, Judge Beverly McGookey, take such a low-key approach to finding folks to serve on the three-member board.
In the last two years, two of the board's three seats have turned over with the departures of Kevin Zeiher and Starr Truscott.
Yet the public learned about the transition only after a new appointee was announced.
Judge McGookey politely explains that no one ever really asks about serving, so she usually looks to the few who ask about it. We should be grateful some people haven't asked.
don't believe that there is anything "good old boy" about
the quiet shuffling of people in and out of the post.
With MetroParks, we're not exactly talking the tree board or the facilities committee.
And if after that, only one person speaks up, then the public has at least had its chance to speak up.
McGookey Ignored a Petition
Probate Judge Beverly McGookey is responsible for appointing the 3-member Erie Metropark Board of Park Commissioners.
In September 2001, members of Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights (CPPR) and other concerned citizens met with her regarding the Park Board’s long standing record of fiscal irresponsibility and apparent “above the law” tactics. She seemed concerned; said she could take the appropriate measure to place new individuals on the Park Board as each current member came up for re-appointment (one of the three members’ terms is up annually, and the member must either be re-appointed or replaced at that time.)
Acting contrary to her sentiment at that meeting, Judge McGookey failed to replace Kevin Zeiher on the Board when his term was up in December 2002. She reappointed him to another 3-year term.
In January 2003, a petition signed by 400 Erie County residents was hand-delivered to the judge’s office. This petition stated:
A cover letter (below) from CPPR urged her to act according to the concerns shared in the September 2001 meeting and replace Fred Deering, whose term would expire in December 2003. (One would think that 12 months would be sufficient time to find a qualified, willing replacement.)
In the days and months that followed, CPPR never received a reply from Judge McGookey about the petition plea – not even an acknowledgment of its receipt. The 400 who signed the petition represent a sampling of our community’s dissatisfaction with the current Erie Metroparks’ leadership. In spite of the controvery and public dissent, Judge McGookey re-appointed Fred Deering in December 2003 to another 3-year term as Park Commissioner. He is now the Chairman of the Board.
There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Isn’t it time for a closer look at how ErieMetroparks operates?
January 2, 2003
Dear Judge McGookey,
We are aware that with this new year Mr. Fred Deering’s term is up as a member of the ErieMetroparks Board of Commissioners. As you stated during our September 10, 2001 meeting, you will definitely replace Mr. Fred Deering with someone new. It is apparent to many that Mr. Deering’s emotions have obscured his decision-making ability.
For your review we have attached to this letter a petition signed by hundreds of Erie County residents. The petition was circulated this summer at the Erie County fair, and is just a sampling of our community’s sentiment of dissatisfaction regarding the controversial leadership of the ErieMetroparks Commissioners.
We hope this reaffirms your decision to place new individuals on the Metropark Board of Commissioners. We all want the same thing – an administrative board of competent individuals who have the best interest of the community and the future success of ErieMetroparks as their main objective
Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights
Do As I Say, Not As I Do: The Plight for Private Property Rights
November 7, 2003
The Center For Individual Freedom (CFIF)
It is interesting to follow the developments of the newly liberated Iraq and to compare the activities there to those happening at home. The Iraqi Governing Council is tasked with the job of creating a Constitution and as Jay Leno has said, "maybe we should send them ours since we’re not using it." After all, how can we as Americans guide others when we allow our own government to infringe on our own basic rights here at home?
For example, is it proper for a parks commission employee with a gun to "coerce" private homeowners out of their own backyards while chainsaws are used to cut down their wooden decks?
That sounds like an extreme case of an overactive imagination, but this precise intimidation is taking place in Erie County, Ohio.
For more than 11 years, over 30 families have fought to keep what is rightfully theirs — their backyards. Their case is steeped in controversy and court action.
Unlike a host of other cases infuriating property rights advocates, the local government here did not even attempt to use eminent domain to seize the properties. The Erie Metroparks board simply drove right in with bulldozers and chainsaws (and guns) and sliced backyard decks and electrical wires.
How does Erie Metroparks justify its taking of the land? Through a complex set of land deed transfers that the parks board erroneously claims establishes its ownership. However, this is not the case. The land in question, along the Huron River, was sought by the Erie Metroparks board to build a scenic bike trail. Erie Metroparks attempted to purchase the land from a railroad company which leased it from a previous company that no longer exists.
However, it wasn’t the railroad company’s land to sell. A provision in the lease stipulates that if the railroad company stops using the land as a railroad, the land ownership reverts back to the original landowners. Moreover, some of the land in question wasn’t even subject to the railroad’s lease! In short, the land deeds establish that the current property owners (the homeowners) are in fact the rightful owners.
What has ensued is an immense amount of frustration on the part of the homeowners and nothing but pure arrogance and disregard for fundamental rights of private property owners by this Erie County government entity.
The courts have already indicated that the land belongs to the homeowners and that the transfer made between the parks board and the railroad company is void. However, that decision has not been enforced and has actually been blatantly twisted by an Erie County prosecutor who allowed the trail project to go forward.
Nearly $1 million in public money has been used by the Erie Metropark board during its attempt to seize the private property. The affected families have spent plenty of money of their own in legal challenges.
The 30 plus families, also known as the Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights, are now headed to court again. This time, a federal judge will be asked to finally put an end to the misery of these families and re-establish their right to the property.
The right to private property ownership is a basic fundamental freedom on which our democracy is perilously perched. Without ownership, we have nothing. How can we preach the fundamentals of democracy to the people of Iraq when we can’t even understand it within our own borders?
Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights (CPPR)
Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights (CPPR) is a neighborhood grassroots organization officially formed in January 1995. Our 40+ family membership resides in the small communities of Milan and Huron, Ohio. We live along the shores of the Huron River, which parallels a former rail corridor that was federally abandoned in 1989. This land has long since been incorporated into our backyards and farm fields.
In 1994 ErieMetroparks (EMP) gave Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad Co. $214,600.00 for this virtual 6-mile corridor, even though EMP?s own title search showed that the Railroad did not own the property. EMP then proceeded to publicly announce it had "purchased" this land and intended to build a bike trail on the property.
The problem is that private citizens already own the land. We all have had professional title work done to substantiate our claims, yet county officials have chosen to stand by EMP and ignore this blatant intrusion onto our land.
EMP has its own little "kingdom." It is a government entity run by three non-elected park commissioners. They are appointed by Probate Judge Beverly McGookey. These three men have an annual budget of over $2 million in local tax monies with no fiscal accountability to the taxpayers, since they are not elected by us.
In vain, CPPR and other concerned citizens voiced opposition to this bike trail project. The arrogant park commissioners ignored us just as they ignored formal letters of opposition from Milan Township Trustees, Huron Township Trustees, Oxford Township Trustees, the Milan Village Council, the Erie County Farm Bureau, the Huron County Farm Bureau, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and the Erie County Sheriff. Park Commissioners Kevin Zeiher and Fred Deering even boasted that this trail would be their "legacy!" Even amidst community protest, EMP began construction of the bike trail.
CPPR has learned
the legal process is not always fair when citizens go up against a government entity. It seems a political agenda outweighs truth and substantiated facts. Case law is ignored. Legal documents are conveniently altered. Even EMP?s request for a favorite judge was granted.
Many lawsuits are pending and many more have yet to be filed. EMP changes its story as it pleases. Some litigation is aimed at destroying our ownership rights; yet other EMP litigation suggests we own the land but will lose it to eminent domain action.
CPPR has made some progress.
Only 3/4 mile of the "trail" has been built. Yet EMP has spent nearly $1,000,000 in Erie County tax monies to develop this land. CPPR has created an expense chart that shows how your one million dollars has been spent to date. Please note that attorney fees account for 1/3 of the total spent.
It appears that EMP commissioners think they are above the law.
They are currently being investigated by Senator Armbruster and the ODNR for possible fraudulent activity. It seems EMP requested ? and received ? a half million dollar reimbursement from ODNR for purchasing the Edison Woods property. The trouble is that EMP did not spend the money in the first place. The property was purchased through funding from various other agencies.
EMP?s leadership also decided to overstep the law on July 2, 2002 when they entered upon two private landowners? properties with guns and chainsaws and proceeded to vandalize both decks and stairways. They destroyed over 45 feet of decking and stole a $25,000.00 tractor owned by one of the landowners. This was apparently done in hopes that they?d intimidate and scare the landowners into submission.
Our county park system is a precious asset to all citizens.
The current park commissioners are an embarrassment and collective loose cannon. CPPR urges all citizens to encourage Judge McGookey to replace these fiscally irresponsible park commissioners with competent individuals who have the best interest of the community and the future success of ErieMetroparks as their main objective.