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Former MetroParks’ leader harvests pay

Andy Ouriel • Dec 23, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Despite quitting more than two years ago, Erie MetroParks’ former top official still should receive a bunch of green from taxpayers.

Erie MetroParks commissioners agreed to pay Steve Dice, the district’s previous executive director, about $14,200 in one lump sum.

Dice should obtain the money sometime in January, park commissioner Kurt Landefeld said.

Area taxpayers owed Dice, who retired in June 2011, about $31,600 in unused sick and vacation time.

Up until this past week, park officials arranged a payment schedule in which Dice received small monthly increments of whatwas owed to him.

Dice, earning about $73,000 a year, quit 18 months before his contracted ended.

“The installment method was done due to the financial situation of the park at the time,” said Amy Bowman-Moore, the district’s executive director.

Bowman-Moore alluded to a financial fallout involving sky-high legal costs peaking when Dice resigned. Taxpayers fronted about $1 million from 1995 through 2011 on MetroParks’ legal costs.

Most of these costs resulted from Huron River Greenway litigation.

Former MetroParks officials unlawfully seized land belonging to about 35 River Road property owners to create the greenway, or a path running next to a river. But a 2007 Ohio Supreme Court ruling vindicated property owners while simultaneously scorning park officials for stealing their land.

Judges demanded officials compensate homeowners for all the land they lost.

Homeowners, however, didn’t obtain their land back until fall 2011 — several months after Dice quit — when an agreement with the residents and park officials finally occurred.

The legal costs dried up MetroParks’ budget, causing employees to panic when Dice suggested laying off several employees in mid-2011.

Upon learning this, about two dozen employees signed a petition and submitted it to commissioners, calling for Dice to resign.

The former executive director also:

• Failed to obtain two building permits for the Children’s Enchanted Cottage. The reading centered then closed for about 18 months.

• Created $124,000 of “bogus revenue” in a previous budget after park commissioners demanded more cash carryover for a previous budget.

Fast forward to today, and the district’s financial outlook projects more favorably — mostly because of greenway-related litigation ending — allowing officials to fully payoff Dice.

The district’s budget hovers right around $1.8 million a year.

“That financial situation has improved, and a lump sum is now a more prudent way to pay Mr. Dice the money he has due to him” said Bowman-Moore, Dice’s successor.

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