Suit over northeast Ohio camp sales mars Girl Scouts' 100th

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A new lawsuit aiming to block the sale of four Girl Scout camps in northeast Ohio has cast a shadow amid the celebration of the organization's Monday anniversary marking 100 years since a group of youngsters first assembled for a Girl Scout meeting.

The Girl Scouts of North East Ohio contends that selling camps in Carroll, Lake, Seneca and Summit counties is the right move for financial reasons, but the lawsuit by members aims to prevent the board from making such sales, at least until they're approved by members of the larger group.

One plaintiff, volunteer Lynn Richardson of Bedford, said Sunday that some members are feeling more sad than celebratory because directors in the 18-county region are trying to move forward with the sales despite objections from young participants and parents.

"We're not celebrating. We're in mourning," said Richardson, 54, a former scout who's been involved as a troop leader or volunteer for more than three decades.

It's not just adult members who hope to keep the camps. Richardson said she was brought to tears at a Saturday event when she was handed a letter from a girl who enjoyed spending time at camp last year and was contributing $40 to the effort, which has raised more than $20,000 so far.

"For my 10th birthday, I asked my friends for donations for saving our camps," Richardson said, reading from the letter. "My friends are great."

The regional group, which serves nearly 40,000 girls and 14,000 adult members, originally planned to sell five of seven camps but spared one in Trumbull County.

Its leaders didn't respond to messages seeking comment Sunday. They previously have said the decision to sell the camps was based in part on low use and an estimate that it would cost $7 million to complete previously deferred maintenance at all the camps and millions more to get them up to modern standards and transform them into the type of facilities that scouts deserve.

"Our only goal in all of these decisions is to do what is best for the girls of Northeast Ohio for today and tomorrow," Joan Villarreal, the head of the GSNEO board, wrote in a letter published by the Akron Beacon Journal in December. "We know how much our volunteers and girls love their camps. Board members have the same wonderful memories of friendships, skills and confidences gained during their camping experiences."

Villarreal's letter said directors wanted their planning to be transparent.

The members suing GSNEO want the same thing but believe the board has been untruthful in describing how extensively some camps are used and how much it would cost to fix them up, Richardson said.

The plaintiffs allege that the sales plan violates a cease-and-desist resolution passed by the group's General Assembly. They also allege that the directors acted improperly by preventing the assembly from electing more people to serve on the board, according the court complaint.

They're asking the court to order that the board can't sell the camps unless it gets approval from two-thirds of the assembly.

The properties being considered for sale are Great Trail Camp in Carroll County, Camp Lejnar in Lake County, Camp Pleasant Valley in Seneca County, and Camp Crowell/Hilaka in Summit County, according to the complaint.

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