Why is the Mill Creek commissioner screening committee denying public access?

The screening committee to fill two MetroParks Board of Commissioners seats has lacked transparency in the selection process

Judge Rusu argues that the screening committee to select two Mill Creek Park commissioners does not have to be open to the public.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – The screening committee to help pick the next two commissioners for the Mill Creek MetroParks Board has met twice at the Canfield Library. Both times, media and members of the public were denied access to the meetings, even though the board operates under Ohio’s open meeting laws.

The list of the 16 candidates applying for the two commissioners seats was released to the public, but the committee would not release the names of the people they plan on interviewing. After contacting all 16 candidates, First News found out that at least five will be interviewed on May 31:

  • Lee Frey, former Canfield mayor and Canfield School Board member
  • Ray Jaminet, Sr., an architect
  • Tom Shipka, former YSU professor
  • Frank Nolasco, a frequent attendee of Commissioners meetings
  • Dan Kuzma, who lives near Mill Creek’s Lake Glacier

Eight others said they have not been called to interview. The remaining three could not be reached for comment.

The committee was created by Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu, who said it is not subject to Ohio’s open meeting laws, citing a 1965 case involving the Akron Beacon Journal.

He spoke at a public forum Monday night at Youngstown Union Baptist Church, but did not address the transparency issue or much else that had to do with the park. Instead, he talked about things like wills.

When one person questioned the oversight of the probate court, moderator Kim Moses stepped in.

“This is not a forum. With all due respect, this is not a forum. This is an information session, this is about probate.”

Judge Rusu mentioned his responsibility as the appointing authority of the park board only in passing.

“I’m not a bad person, despite what the park people say.”

Judy Peyko is a leader of the group “Concerned Citizens for Mill Creek MetroParks.”

“In an interview that your station did with him March 24, he stated that in an effort to keep the process transparent, he’ll form a selection committee of citizens to screen applicants. If he wants to continue with that transparency, he needs to open up the selection committee meetings,” she said.

One member of the committee said they are under “radio silence,” meaning no one on the committee is allowed to talk about what’s going on.

Two other members, Jeff Harvey and Lynn Anderson, have been outspoken critics of the current board for it’s lack of public access to meetings.

“I wanted an open and transparent process, but I’m only one of ten votes,” Harvey said.

When asked if he is being hypocritical by serving on a park board that is operating in secrecy, Harvey said, “I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t comment.”

Anderson, of Guardians of Mill Creek Park, is also critical of the park board’s decisions.

She said Judge Rusu wanted the committee to work without public access, and that he said it was a personnel matter. Under Ohio law, public bodies can discuss personnel matters in private.

The judge said he left the committee’s process up to the committee, but Anderson said they never took a vote to determine public access.

She criticized the screening committee as well.

“This committee is a farce and a joke. It’s just posturing tactics designed to delay the selection.”

Her response to whether or not she was being hypocritical by serving on the board?

“No, I give ’em hell.”

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