Protest over flower beds blooms in Liberty

Trustees urged to rescind resolution on I-80 foliage

Staff photo / Beth Shiller Liberty in Bloom member Marlene Flickinger, right, along with residents Julie Wellington, center, and Sara Bowser, left, protest two Liberty Township trustees’ resolution to replace existing flower beds with new lawn beds.

LIBERTY — Liberty in Bloom’s outcry over care of flower beds could put a thorn in two township trustees’ plan to level them.

The volunteer garden group’s protest near Interstate 80 on Monday turned political as members asked for more transparency from township trustees.

The protest was organized after a 7:30 a.m. meeting Thursday that resulted in approval of a resolution to remove existing foliage at I-80 and turn existing flower beds into lawn beds, pending input from the state and residents who may have concerns.

“I asked the two board members to cover the cost to trim, edge, spray and mulch these large beds for $1,500. They in turn decided unilaterally … to plow them under and voted immediately to go forward” with the resolution, township Trustee Jodi Stoyak said in an email rallying the Bloomers to protest.

“Our volunteers have enhanced this area over the years by pruning rose bushes and planting daffodils. These daffodils will be plowed away! Shame on them!”

Stoyak’s husband, Steve, took notes last week and showed that the resolution was not on the early-morning meeting agenda, and that the resolution stated physical action with the flower beds would begin this fall.

“We have donated money every year, and I just think it’s a needless expense (plowing the beds),” said July McGuire, president of the Liberty Historical Society. “They’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.”

The protest is in part urging trustees Arnie Clebone and Greg Cizmar to rescind the resolution while also urging more transparency within the township administration.

“We will not rescind the resolution. It says that we were not going to do anything until we have further citizen input,” Clebone said. “I think our purpose of our resolution was to try to say, ‘We want to do something.’ And it was in response to her (Stoyak) wanting the $1,500. We didn’t want to just ignore it. I respect the people that are out here, and we will take note that there’s a lot of people that want to have some input.”

About two dozen people came out for the protest, but not all of them agreed with the whole argument.

Resident Art Fisher agrees that the flower beds should be left up to Liberty in Bloom but thinks it’s odd that an elected official doesn’t attend the morning meetings that she is upset about.

“She doesn’t find it necessary to attend these meetings and uses the excuse that it’s not on the agenda,” Fisher said.

Former trustee Eileen Pedaline Smith agrees that things within the township are done with little public input and that transparency needs to become a priority within the administration. She also believes it is wrong for trustees to not attend meetings — no matter how early they are.

“They still need to be civil and truly look at the issues and listen to the residents. They were elected to be their voice, and I am not thrilled with the voices we have,” Pedaline Smith said.

Clebone said the decision to create this project, instead of giving Liberty in Bloom the $1,500, came from his belief that the beds would not look any better with just some weeding or mulching. He brought in Neal Barkett, former principal owner of Colonial Gardens, to look at the flower beds, and Barkett said they should be completely redone.

“It’s the opinion of the landscaper, who’s a professional, who’s been trained, educated in landscaping, that those beds need to be removed. They’re too extensive. They’re overgrown. They haven’t been taken care of. Maybe if they were taken care of over the years, that may be OK, but that’s his opinion, and it’s my opinion, and if somebody else has another professional who wants to come in, we’re certainly willing to listen,” Clebone said.

“Everyone’s yards have weeds right now — it’s fall,” said Liberty in Bloom member Kim Quinlan, who believes the flower beds should stay under Liberty in Bloom’s care.