The following is the text of an open letter written by myself. On 12 February, 15 people were fired without notice at the Mill Creek Metroparks in Youngstown, Ohio. They were escorted off of public park property by uniformed and armed police officers. Here is a link to the original local article
These were people who, in some cases, had served the park service and the public for three decades. They were not “criminals.” This sort of government management represents the same ideology that gave us Flint, Michigan – a failure of leadership and a failure of moral character that brings us eventually to the shame and disgrace of us all.
Read this open letter, and think on how easily this might happen in your own community. Budget cuts are all the rage, they are a huge fad… but they are a fad that cost people their livelihoods. Some of these people gave decades of their lives to their community. They did “everything right,” and found jobs they loved, and served the public interest, and then were tossed into the street when their lives didn’t fit into a spreadsheet. It can happen in your community… and it can happen to you.
I love Mill Creek Park.
When I was a baby, my mother would put me in a sling and walk through the park with me. I spend a great deal of time in Mill Creek Park, hiking, meditating, cooking out, and enjoying time with friends and family. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and for my money, Mill Creek is the most lovely and engaging municipal park in the nation. And I’ve put my money where my mouth is; I have supported every levy renewal that has been asked of me as a Youngstown and Mahoning County resident, and I have encouraged others to do so.
It is because of my deep love of this park that I was so shocked and horrified upon hearing about the events of 12 February. 15 employees were fired without notice, including two employees, Keith Kaiser, who had worked for the Metroparks for 27 years, and Ray Novotny, who had worked at the Ford Nature Center for over 30. These people were escorted off the premises by uniformed and armed officers of the Metroparks – a duty I’m sure the park police loathed, given that they are and have always been a professional and decent organization that embodies integrity and community service.
The Executive Director of the Metroparks Aaron Young said that “The internal reorganization is estimated to save approximately $13 million dollars over the next 15 years and will significantly reduce the anticipated $15 million capital improvement shortfall that was projected over that same time period,” Well, we all understand that hard financial decisions must be made, especially when you are working with taxpayer money. We understand and appreciate fiscal responsibility in dealing with public funds. But saving money does not mean you must treat people who have served their community for decades in such a shameful manner.
Think on this: These people were given no notice. Their e-mail accounts were terminated. They were greeted by uniformed police officers and told they had lost their job – their livelihood. They were not permitted to gather their personal belongings. They were not permitted to say goodbye to their co-workers. They were escorted out by police, in front of people they work with, people they respect and respect them. They were taken off the property in a public place, were members of our community and tourists who chose to come to our beautiful park could see. They were taken off the property like criminals who had wronged the the people of this Valley and the people who paid them to do a job – not as people worthy of praise for their many years of service, but as petty felons or thieves. This is wrong.
They could have handled this differently. They could have called these 15 public servants into a meeting, and discussed terms of termination. They could have been given notice. They could have been treated like the valued members of our community that they are, and not like criminals. What is criminal, here, is the treatment they received at the hands of Aaron Young and the Park Board. In the interest of accountability, responsibility, and integrity, I openly ask the following questions of those parties:
1). Why was the decision made to terminate without notice?
2.) Why was the Metroparks Police called for this unfortunate duty, to escort them off the property?
3.) As public servants, these employees were under contract. Was this termination duly vetted and assessed under the terms of those contracts?
4.) Do these employees have recourse to union negotiation, and if they were not members of a union, did the Executive Director and Board specifically target non-union members?
5.) Will you release the minutes of the meetings leading up to this decision, in the interest of transparency?
6.) Was their not any recourse besides this termination to keep the Metroparks solvent, and was there discussion in meetings that would reflect that this was the only course of action?
7.) Why were these 15 employees chosen? What was the vetting process, and was it documented? Will you release those documents?
8.) Why were these budget decisions not made public, and the employees in question not informed and part of the process?
I ask Aaron Young and the Park Board of Directors to answer these questions, and to stand up for democracy and accountability in this matter. If they fail to do so, I will do all in my power to organize a movement to revoke the last levy, or to make sure the next levy fails. I love this park, but I will not permit injustice to occur in this community. The Mahoning Valley has experienced too much injustice over th
e years; it’s time to be clean up. We will save this park, but we cannot do it without dedicated public servants.