The mission of the Cincinnati Park Board is “to conserve, manage, sustain, and enhance parks’ natural and cultural resources and public greenspace for the enjoyment, enlightenment and enrichment of the Cincinnati community.”
Since November of 2015, the Cincinnati Park Board has been in discussion with the City of Cincinnati’s Administration regarding a “fiscal review,” initiated by Mayor John Cranley, from an independent firm Crowe Horwarth, LLC to review the “Cincinnati Park Board, the Park Department, the Parks Foundation and all Private Endowments,” despite the fact that the Cincinnati Park Board engages in a biannual audits, and is part of the City’s audit process.
It is a pleasure to announce that the last 20 years of audits, including the independent audit conducted by Crowe Howarth, LLC, results show no mismanagement of funds that would present distrust or lack of transparency between the Cincinnati Park Board, City Administration and/or the public. Crowe and Horwarth, LLC did make some “observations for enhancements” in which the Cincinnati Park Board reviewed and responded to at the August 18, 2016 Board meeting with a report entitled “Fiscal Review Update” (Appendix A).
Donors entrusted the Cincinnati Park Board to control and maintain the Cincinnati Park’s greenspaces, nature preserves and natural resources by placing park property on the forefront and separate from the City Administrations financial needs. Since 1906, although there has not been any mismanagement of funds, the City Administration has created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) demanding control of the current Private Endowment Funds (Appendix B) that have been a part of the Cincinnati Park Board’s heritage since 1906.
City Charter/Endowment Funds – Brief History
The citizens of Cincinnati overwhelming approved the measure of establishing a Park Commission with 57,941 “yes” votes out of the 69,715 votes cast. In 1906, the Board of Park Commissioners was formed which laid the foundation of today’s Cincinnati Park Board with the 1907 plan, “A Park System for the City of Cincinnati,” by George Kessler.
City Charter – The charter was established in 1926 and outlined Parks management and states: “The Board of Park Commissioners by virtue of the Charter of the City of Cincinnati, Article VII, Section 1, and the Ohio Revised Code, Sections 755.05, 755.06, has complete management over the management of parks and park property.”
Private Endowment Funds – Control over the funds have been reviewed many times throughout the years; dated back to a 1970 City Ordinance and three legal opinions, and each time it has been concluded that the management of these funds is the sole responsibility of the Board of Park Commissioners.
With the creation of the Board of Park Commissioners and the Endowment Funds, opinions were sought by the previous Park Director to determine and establish clear policy with regards to the Park Board’s judicial and property management responsibilities.
Listed below is a synopsis of the opinions sought and provided regarding these endowments:
- 1970 – Cincinnati Administrative Code-Ordinance 45-1970; section 7 approved “The director of finance, with the approval of the city manager, shall authorize accounts to be maintained by any officer, office, department, board or commission of the City of Cincinnati…” “Such accounts may be for the purpose of determining the costs of work and services, by units or other purposes” (Appendix C-1).
- 1978 – Fay Dupuis; City Solicitor, in response to funds being deposited in City’s general treasury? “It is our opinion that the maintenance by the Board of this type of account with expenditures directly by the Board is permissible under applicable law of the State of City” (Appendix C-2).
- 1985 – John Hanselman; City Solicitor, in response to investment of Park Board Funds? “The Board of Park Commissioners by virtue of the Charter of the City of Cincinnati…including the investment of public funds in furtherance of park policy…section 301-11, Investment of Moneys, Cincinnati Municipal Code, governs investment of funds in the city treasury and would control the investment of park funds. Nothing in this section would prevent investment in Treasury Bonds (Appendix C-3).
- 1986 – John Hanselman; City Solicitor, in response to park trust fund spending interpretation of the wills and trusts? “The opinion of this office, then, is that the directions of these trusts should be liberally interpreted to provide a wide means of accomplishing their goals. As long as the services to be paid for with the funds can reasonably be said to be forwarding the goals of the trusts, no conflict exists in such use (Appendix C-4).
After careful review of the past findings, the Charter of City of Cincinnati, the Ohio Revised Code, and Administrative Code Ordinance, the Board of Park Commissioners unanimously rejected the MOU at their October 25, 2016 Board Meeting.
The attached letter to the City Manager, Harry Black, (Appendix D) states “the Board remains committed to transparency, but the paramount concern is that such a transfer is not transparent. Instead the Board is being asked to relinquish the very responsibility entrusted in it by the Charter and those individuals who entrusted the endowments to the Park Board.”
The Cincinnati Park Board will remain strong in its decision and will stay committed with providing one of the best managed and operated park systems in the country!
Appendix A – Fiscal Review Update
Appendix B – Memorandum of Understanding
Appendix C – Ordinance 45-1970, Fay Dupuis opinion, John Hanselman opinion
Appendix D – Letter from Park Board to City Manager