Park Districts Budget Amendment Would Create Penalties For Citizen Dissent
Amendment allows judges to fine groups who oppose park boards, judges' decisions

State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today expressed his strong opposition to a proposed budget amendment from Republican lawmakers that would give probate courts broad jurisdiction over park districts. The Poland lawmaker specifically cited concerns that the amendment would restrict citizen engagement with local park boards. The amendment would do the following: 

-          Permit probate judges to investigate any ruling by a park board or administrator.

-          Allow judges to fine or create penalties for outside groups who “interfere” with the park district’s purpose or mission.

-          Allow judges to levy court fees to cover costs associated with additional hearings. 

“Under this amendment, a judge could limit dissent from groups such as Concerned Citizens of Mill Creek Park by fining members for speaking out against a board decision,” said Boccieri. “I believe this proposal is a gross overreach of power and places judges in very political postures.” 

Last year, the outspoken Concerned Citizens of Mill Creek Park group challenged local park board officials for terminating several popular long-time park employees, expressed concern about wildlife habitats and demanded answers about board budget practices. 

The proposed budget amendment would permit judges to limit this type of dissent and handcuff a board if they make a decision contrary to the judge’s direction. 

“This idea was born with the Geauga probate judge, which is ironically where the Mill Creek MetroPark’s present administrator previously held a position,” Boccieri said. “I would like to see our county probate judge oppose this measure and work through his association to defeat it in coming weeks. Anything that stifles dissent, in my opinion, is un-American.” 

Last year, Boccieri sponsored House Bill 561, legislation to address the issues Mahoning County residents were experiencing with the board of MillCreek Metroparks. The legislation would have transferred additional park board member appointment authority to county commissioners. 

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