State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today renewed calls to change the way MetroPark board members are appointed. Boccieri is the author of House Bill (HB) 561, legislation introduced by lawmakers who represent MetroParks from around the state that would require probate judges to engage and seek input from citizens groups when making appointments to park district boards. Under the bill, county commissioners would hold appointment authority for additional board members, beyond the initial three members.

“Some may not agree with me, but I feel that, with the outcry for reform coming from citizens’ groups, this is a responsible step,” Rep. Boccieri said. “This legislation balances the fact that probate judges, as the appointing authority, cannot be out in front on controversial issues because they’re bound by judicial restraint. In taking this into account, the bill allows for a more accountable board.”

After lengthy research from Boccieri’s office and Statehouse legal staff, no clear intent was found explaining why the Legislature gave probate judges the unique ability to make appointments to MetroParks. Current law permits probate judges to appoint three board members to these park districts and then the appointed members, once seated, have the ability to elect an additional two board members. If the board members choose to do so, the probate judge must also appoint those individuals.

HB 561 requires that probate judges provide for a public comment period before making final appointments. If a board elects to add additional members to its body, the legislation requires county commissioners to make those appointments. In vetting additional members, the commissioners are required to abide by the same obligation to involve local groups as the probate judges.

“Permitting citizen involvement in the appointment process is important, especially as it relates to parks,” Boccieri said. “Commissioners appoint members for every other board in the county and can be responsive during controversial decisions. They should have a voice in the process as the fiscal stewards of the county.”

The concerned citizens group leading the charge against the park board is expected to picket at the Mahoning County Courthouse at noon today to repeat their call for the resignation of Director Young. The gathering follows months of public meetings by the group, which is frustrated by its inability to gain explanations from the Board for its decisions. The park board has been steadfast in its support for Director Young since the backlash began following his termination of several employees in February.

HB 561, joint sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), was introduced earlier this month and awaits a committee assignment. Rep. Michelle Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) is also supportive of the bill and is a part of the bipartisan list of co-sponsors.

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