YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Over the past year, Mill Creek Park has seen its share of controversies surrounding the park’s board of commissioners but now, leaders say things are moving forward.
Park goers gathered for the 25th annual Summer Garden Party fundraiser for Fellows Riverside Gardens Friday evening. Attendance didn’t seem to be affected by the layoffs and changes in leadership.
In February, several long-time park employees were laid off as part of Mill Creek’s reorganization plan. The layoffs led to protests of park management and demands from community members that Executive Director Aaron Young be fired.
Two new commissioners were selected in June to serve on the park board.
President of Friends of Fellows Riverside Gardens, Paul Hagman, says that the last few months have been tough.
“The challenges with the Metro Parks over the last couple of months has certainly had an impact on Friends’ ability to raise funds, but that doesn’t stop us from continuing to raise awareness and advocacy for Fellows Riverside Gardens.”
He also says that from the controversy, a new group of park volunteers have come forward to offer their help.
“We have seen a new crop of volunteers come out and express interest in getting involved, and likewise with some of our other committees, so we hope to continue to grow that.”
Gardens Director Andrew Pratt says the staff has helped them through challenging times.
“Obviously some controversy in the last few months, but we’re pushing past that and persevering,” he said. “We have a great staff here.”
New Mill Creek Park Commissioner Tom Shipka says many people have come forward to voice concerns since he took the position.
“People came out of the woodwork. There’s a lot of folks that have concerns about the park, thousands of them, that I had not seen before and, frankly, I have to count myself in that number.”
Shipka says that changes are coming, with nine new standing committees set to be made.
On top of their monthly meetings, commissioners will also hold additional meetings every other month starting in January for members of the community to share their opinions. Shipka says this will make the board more responsive to the public’s needs.
“We’ve essentially established a new governance model for the park, and we need to give that time to work,” he said.
The next commissioner meeting is scheduled for August 15 at the Metro Parks Farm in Canfield.