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Editorial: City leaders must improve communication, collaboration

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Collaboration and communication have helped make Columbus a positive example for other communities across the nation.

We’ve been known for tackling community issues in productive and systematic ways by getting stakeholders together, honestly and openly analyzing all aspects of issues, finding common ground and then rolling up our sleeves to make a project happen.

The examples are many: The Commons, the Front Door Project, downtown redevelopment.

Each of these initiatives has helped make Columbus an attractive place to live, work and raise families. People have come to Columbus because of the hard work by a broad section of the community.

Of late though, collaboration and communication have fallen by the wayside.

Confrontation and one-upmanship have been evident during public exchanges among Mayor Kristen Brown and members of Columbus City Council and the Columbus Parks and Recreation Board.

This doesn’t serve the community well. And it doesn’t put Columbus in a positive light.

In fighting over the parks director position — open since Dec. 30 when the mayor demoted Ben Wagner to parks marketing coordinator — has been protracted and expanded to involve two independent attorneys hired to research mayoral powers on parks department matters.

The latest example of conflict arose March 13 when the mayor posted a job description for the parks director position without the knowledge of the park board. That board, which has final approval of the mayor’s choice for parks director, had not discussed or voted on a revised job description, which reflects changes in duties and to whom that person reports. Some park board and city council members expressed shock and frustration about the mayor’s action.

Also on March 13, the park board monthly meeting devolved into an awkward showdown between board member David Jones and city councilman Dascal Bunch.

Jones — a recent appointee of the mayor — asked why the council’s attorney had not yet provided an answer on whether the mayor’s demotion of Wagner was legal. The exchange at the public meeting grew more strained as Jones pressed for an answer, and Bunch insisted that one wasn’t ready. When Jones instructed Bunch to tell the council to restore funding to the parks director position, Bunch bluntly replied that it wasn’t about to happen.

Nearly two months earlier, the council surprised the mayor Jan. 21 by zeroing out the parks director’s salary of $79,471 and moving that money in the salary ordinance to the marketing director’s position.

With what has transpired, one could reasonably wonder who would want to step into this political mess and become the city’s next parks director.

The mayor and council members have little or no communication outside public meetings. Communication between the mayor and a majority of park board members doesn’t seem to be much better.

That’s disappointing.

The residents of Columbus deserve better.

Even with collaboration and steady communication, not everyone is going to agree. There will be heated public discussions, as there should be. Lively debate is good and leads to better solutions and outcomes.

Instead of putting their full focus on public servants with which they often disagree, our elected and appointed city officials need to be thinking of another group of people: the constituents they serve.

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