From: Frank Jerome
We are reaching an end of the big mess of a situation at the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. It is not a good end. The whole situation came as a result of the mayor’s poor handling of her desire to remove the parks department head, Ben Wagner.
If the mayor had announced that she had decided to replace Wagner and that he would no longer be employed, the situation would have been regrettable but would have ended there. Instead, three reasons were given, and he was demoted. I thought she believed demoting Wagner would prompt him to resign rather than to take a lesser position. His love for the parks department made him take the new position with the hope things could be worked out. When he saw that there was no path back, he did resign.
Unfortunately, while no reasons were really necessary, all three reasons were seen as made up to give a rationale to demote him. While firing him or asking for a resignation would have been sad to many, it would not have been challenged. Demoting him is not an option allowed under the state code. It is that which made the City Council react.
The Parks Board was given the option of challenging the demotion, but after private negotiations with the mayor, three members chose to resign. Once they withdrew from challenging the decision and Wagner resigned from his new job, there was no further point in the City Council trying to get a fair resolution.
The city attorney played a large role in this. An independent city attorney would have presented both sides and made a recommendation. Instead of having an independent city attorney, we have an in-house attorney who represents the mayor. In addition, he has assumed a new title in his job description of “executive director of administration.”
This removes all doubt as to where Jeff Logston stands on issues. He directly represents the mayor, not the city. There is a big difference between showing how the law applies and advocating a position.
When he attends the Park Board meetings, which hat is he wearing? It is not an independent voice of reason but the voice of the mayor, either as her attorney or as her assistant, an enforcer of her policies.
The overriding concern of the council was fairness to how a valuable department head was being treated and how this treatment could affect his future and the perception of other city employees as to their security. The temporary change in the salary ordinance was an attempt by the council to try to return reason and fairness to the situation. We now see that this was a futile gesture and will be reversed.
All the council can do is view this as a failure of what was reasonable and fair, and the assertion of a “my way or the highway” attitude is something city employees and appointees will have to live with. Tempering the situation with rational discussions and consensus failed. Now we will begin again trying to re-establish our parks system to its former stature. There may be years of work ahead to rebuild what we had just six months ago.