The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 27, 2013

Geneva BOE meeting gets ugly — cops called

By MARGIE NETZEL - mnetzel@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

GENEVA — Geneva police officers were called to Geneva High School on Wednesday evening to provide security at the board of education meeting after several male members of the audience began yelling and moving aggressively toward board members during a heated discussion about the demolition of structures at Memorial Field.

The officers, who arrived at Geneva high School but did not enter the auditorium, were dispatched after board president David Foote called for order at least three times, ending the audience discussion with an impromptu explanation about the demolition at Memorial Field.

Demolition of the home side grandstand began at the field last week, more than a year after it was damaged. After days of work, the entire grandstand is now gone, and its recyclable materials scrapped as part of the demolition contract. The guest side of the bleachers and press box are also slated for removal.

Resident Sandra Menor said she mourns the loss of the field.

“I mourn the loss of the memories our future children will never have now that our beloved Memorial Field has been destroyed,” she said.

Menor said she takes as much issue with the board members’ behavior as she does with the demolition of the grandstand.

“You need to learn the fine art of listening when the community speaks,” she told the board members. “We heard condescension, vanity, self-centered speeches and a total lack of regard for a close-knit community.”

Resident Beth Carney said the field is a place of tradition and memories.

“At first, I was very hurt and I cried as I stood watching the home bleachers coming down, but then I got angry,” she said. A few board members went through the Geneva school system and know and understand our traditions and don’t care about them. From attending the board meetings, I’ve come to the conclusion that some don’t want those traditions to continue.”

Foote said the board was forced by finances to make an unpopular decision about the field, but did so in the interest of the students now enrolled in the district.

“Collectively, those decisions must be in the best interest of the students and district,” he said over shouts from the audience. “We aren’t the bad guys here. It was arson that made the grandstands unaffordable to repair. We have every intention to return Memorial Field to public use. The memories are still there. The plaques are all still there, but because of liability issues, we couldn’t afford it.  We are being highly responsible with taxpayer money by not spending money we don’t have on an athletic field.”

The meeting ended quietly, so quietly that the vote to re-hire Superintendent Mary Zappitelli went all but unnoticed by the audience. The vote, which retains Zappitelli as superintendent at a savings to the district as she collects both a local paycheck and a pension from the state, got one “nay” — from board member Jessecca Wilt. Board members, including Wilt, did not offer a discussion on the decision.