YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Those organizing a Monday night community meeting addressing the future of Mill Creek MetroParks aren’t mincing their words.
“We want Aaron Young to either be resigned or the Park Board to fire him, and we want all those employees who were fired reinstated,” said Chris Peyko.
Peyko is with a group called Guardians of Mill Creek Park. He and others in the community are upset about a recent round of layoffs, during which time 13 park employees were asked to either take other positions within the system or be given severance packages.
The group held a meeting Monday night at the Youngstown Community Health Center to prepare for the next Park Board meeting and explain their ideas to park commissioners. The meeting was attended by about 200 people.
Peyko said he hoped to raise community awareness of the group’s plight.
“We want the public to know that we are unhappy with the way things are going at Mill Creek Park. We are unhappy with the executive director, Aaron Young, firing the employees who have served the park so loyally for so many years. We feel that they actually run the park, and he is not qualified to run the park,” he said.
As people arrived at Monday’s meeting, they were asked to sign a petition, which will be presented to the Mill Creek MetroParks Board of Commissioners — demanding that Executive Director Aaron Young be fired and the 15 people recently let go be rehired.
Young previously said the layoffs were part of an internal reorganization, saying they would “maximize efficiency and leverage resources.” In response to the request for his resignation, he said, “I have no interest or intent on resigning.”
Peyko said his group is unhappy that the employees were let go after voters approved a levy for park funding.
“We thought what options do we have? And thought well, the only things that really speaks is money, so maybe they’ll listen to us if we try to repeal the levy,” Peyko said.
The 15-year issue was approved by in November and would go into effect next year. The park’s executive director argues that repealing the measure would devastate park operations.
“It would be like your household or my household. I mean, you can’t operate if you lose 72 percent of the funding,” Young said.
Instead, Young said the cuts, which will save more than $800,000 a year for the life of levy, will make the park system more efficient.
“Those monies are going to give us the potential to both save costs and potentially triple our programming,” he said.
Opponents of the layoffs, however, say the levy was fraudulently sold to the public; they didn’t know that the employees would be let go when they approved the levy.
Attorney Bill Adams led Monday’s meeting. He had three priorities — firing Aaron Young, creating public meetings with the Park Board to discuss finances and repealing the recently passed park levy from 15 years to three years.
In the audience was Mill Creek’s former executive director Dennis Miller, who did speak and would not comment, and next to him was former Park Commissioner Rick Shale.
“We need to keep the focus on the issue of Aaron Young and some bad decisions that have been made,” Shale said.
People were also mad with the way the employees were fired and that some were escorted away by police. Jeff Harvey, of the Audubon Society, said outside consultants were brought in.
“The outside consultants did all the talking. The outside consultants were the ones that said, ‘This is the procedure to do it,’ and I think they’re the ones who recommended that they have police officers there,” Harvey said.
Young said, while he understands the concerns of Peyko and others, he is encouraging the community to attend Park Board meetings and learn more about the reasons for the cuts and the system’s future plans.
Peyko said he also encourages the public to attend the meeting on March 14.