Columbus City Council members might reinstate the parks and recreation director’s salary in the city’s salary ordinance today, paving the way for hiring of a new director.
City Council President Dascal Bunch said he plans to make a motion to return $79,471 to fund the parks director position. The council had moved that salary Jan. 21 to fund the parks department’s marketing coordinator position.
That allowed former parks director Ben Wagner to maintain his pay level until circumstances surrounding his demotion to a middle-manager role could be examined.
Now, with Wagner’s resignation from the parks department, effective Friday, and the appointment of three new parks board members that same day by Mayor Kristen Brown, it’s time for the council to move on, Bunch said.
“We feel now that this has gone along for a long time,” he said. “We still don’t have everything straightened out, but they’re going to get their money back.”
The parks board, city administration and city council have been in a five-month dispute about whether the mayor has the power to demote or fire a parks director and how much power a mayor has to supervise a city parks department. It began after the mayor’s Dec. 30 demotion of Wagner.
Brown said Wagner failed to put a system in place that would have detected that Snappy Tomato Pizza, then a Commons tenant, failed to pay rent for all of 2013. The restaurant was informed Dec. 23 that it owed $27,237.52 in monthly payments, additional lease obligations and late payments for all of 2013. Brown also said Wagner improperly used parks department credit cards and did not have a plan to deal with a backlog in parks maintenance.
Wagner contended the allegations were unfounded and did not merit reassignment or demotion.
Councilmen Ryan Brand and Tim Shuffett agree with Bunch that the council should reinstate the director’s pay.
“We made an attempt to assist the previous park board that was in place and provide some counsel on the situation going forward,” Shuffett said. “At this point, I think that we’re going to reinstate the director’s pay and reinstate the marketing position as well.”
Brand said he believes the mayor has built consensus with the new parks board that hiring a new director needs to happen soon. He anticipates that the new board will be present at tonight’s council meeting to support the move.
Points to address
Shuffett said there are several issues that have not been resolved, however:
Who is responsible for collecting rent from restaurants at The Commons.
How parks department credit cards should be used.
How to eliminate a $6 million backlog in park facilities maintenance.
“That’s going to be up to the new park board,” Shuffett said.
It will be difficult to hire a parks department director without resolving those issues, he said.
“We haven’t resolved the issue of the reason why Ben (Wagner) was removed,” Shuffett said. “There was nothing in place then, and there’s nothing in place now to do that.”
Two private meetings between parks board members, community leaders and the mayor in mid-May failed to bring a resolution to the dispute. The meetings resulted in parks board President Brian Russell and members Nancy Ann Brown and Mary Tucker submitting their immediate resignations May 23.
During the private meetings, Russell and Brown discussed whether Wagner could be reappointed as parks director. Wagner submitted his resignation May 19, saying his decision was based on the mayor’s public statements that she would not reinstate him as director. His last day was May 30.
Mayor Kristen Brown appointed three new parks board members Friday — Jennifer Carroll, Amy Kleinert and Angela Macy — to fill the open seats on the four-member board. They will join continuing board member David Jones and will meet for the first time as a board June 12.
Mayor Brown did not return phone messages requesting an interview before Monday’s deadline.