One of three Geauga County Park District commissioners was removed from his post Tuesday after only seven months on the job.
Jeffrey T. Orndorff, an Auburn Township attorney, was appointed in March by probate judge Timothy J. Grendell, a former state legislator from the Republican Party's rightmost fringe. Grendell's removal of Orndorff is in keeping with the machinations of his tyrannical, Tea-Party era.
Grendell has been "wreaking havoc" on the Geauga County park district since his appointment in 2011, but most profoundly since 2013, when he orchestrated the removal of longtime Executive Director Tom Curtin, ostensibly over a botched land transaction a decade earlier. You can read all about it in this Belt Magazine feature
from one year ago. The board of commissioners — a body that enjoyed supreme stability for decades — has been repeatedly shaken up since then.
The general feeling among Grendell's opponents (and the big reason for their opposition) is that the judge, like Gov. John Kasich, is willing, and eager
it would seem, to sacrifice the district's stated goals of conservation and preservation for the purposes of courting the energy industry, which wants to drill and frack the absolute daylights out of park land.
In the meantime, Grendell has changed the park's bylaws to promote recreation, and removed key phrases that would prevent development if it were in conflict with protecting the environment.
Orndorff's removal might come as a surprise, though, at least for those following these undulations closely.
When he was appointed back in March, Orndorff was thought by many to be another Grendell crony. He was an attorney, after all, who appeared regularly before the most honorable Judge and had never applied for previous commissioner openings. Though at least unlike Mary Ruth Shumway
, the president of the park board, Orndorff was a regular visitor to the Geauga Parks. According to those who attended meetings, Orndorff would often raise questions or pay compliments based on his experience at specific parks in the previous week.
(Shumway, on the other hand — at least according to rumor — had to be shown a map just to learn the names of the parks within the district. Plus she's on Grendell's payroll, but "it's unclear what she does," say members of Protect Geauga Parks
, an anti-Grendell, anti-drilling group).
On Oct. 2, Orndorff was hand-delivered a letter from Grendell advising him that his tenure was about to be terminated — "I understand that serving on the Geauga County Park Board is a thankless job," the letter began. He'd be given an opportunity to be heard on October 13, the letter said. But Grendell's mind was made up.
"After careful consideration, I must take into account the overall sustainability of the Park Board, the Board's dynamic to promote a strong culture, and the ability to work with the Park District's Director," Grendell wrote.
The official court order dated October 13, of which Scene
obtained a copy Wednesday morning, got a little more specific:
Terminating Orndorff was warranted, it said, based on "the lack of communication between Mr. Orndorff and Director [John] Oros with respect to important park district issues, inconsistencies between his legally permitted intra-Park Board communications and subsequent meeting actions, ineffective approach to acknowledged concerns about the County Budget Commission's 2016 review and approval of the Park District's 2016 Budget prior to the Budget Commission's 2015 meeting, apparent circumvention of the Executive Director as staff manager, and ongoing concerns about his willingness to work with the Executive Director."
The court order was signed by the Honorable Judge Grendell and once again hand-delivered to Orndorff.
Orndorff has not yet replied to an email and a phone message from Scene,
but the Geauga Maple Leaf reported Tuesday that Orndorff "[wouldn't] dignify Grendell with a response."
Ed Buckles, an avid supporter of the Geauga Park District and a member of Protect Geauga Parks, told Scene
in a phone call Wednesday that Orndorff had been a "very diligent" commissioner, in his view. Buckles said that, earlier this year, after residents pressured the board about illegal trapping and hunting on park land, Orndorff made a motion to suspend all
trapping until procedures could be standardized and codified.
"We understand that he was called into Grendell's office and told that he was not to do that sort of thing anymore," Buckles said.
(That issue is of particular interest to area monitors of corrupt governance: both Grendell and Oros and a number of their pals "won" the hunting lottery for licenses last year, a coincidence that was a little too coincidental for opponents).
John Oros is the interim Parks Director. He was promoted from within — no other candidates were interviewed — after the board voted to remove Tom Curtin in 2013. According to Buckles, the perception is that Oros no longer includes the Board in major decision-making.
"He's certainly in Grendell's camp," Buckles said. "He talks to the judge more than he talks to the Board. We don't know his politics, but we've heard he takes orders without asking questions. The latest thing is that he opened up horseback riding trails to bicycles without board approval. Bikes are quiet, and they scare the horses when they go whizzing by."
Additionally, Oros volunteered at the Tea Party's innaugural "Liberty Camp
" held in Burton Township on park property in July. Protect Geauga Parks objected to the camp's use of firearms — they evidently had a musket line, or some sort of firing ceremony, in at least one of their historical re-enactments.
'We have no issue with having a camp for kids, even one that is 'patriotically oriented,'" Buckles told Scene.
"But breaking the park rules should not be allowed."
At the board meeting Tuesday evening, a contingent from Protect Geauga Parks was present. During public comments, members said that they hoped Grendell, who was scheduled to speak at the meeting, would address their concerns.
Grendell did arrive, after the public comment period, and reportedly played a clip from the Glenn Beck show before asserting that anyone who objected to Liberty Camp "is not a patriot." He presented certificates of merit to John Oros, for volunteering at Liberty Camp; Mary Shumway, for unknown reasons; and local Tea Party leadership.
"Our freedom was earned at the end of a musket," Grendell was reported to have said in minutes prepared by Protect Geauga Parks.
"He said that back in the Revolutionary days, when people wanted to get things done, they didn't write letters to the editor. They stood up to cannons and fought." Buckles chuckled. "I think he may have been calling on Protect Geauga Parks to arm themselves, but I'm not sure."