Mayor Kristen Brown is advertising for a new director of parks and recreation, although there is no money in the city budget to pay anyone to do the job.
On Friday, city councilmen and a parks board member described their reaction as disappointed, incredulous and dumbfounded. They said they were not told the job would be advertised.
“It’s hard for me to believe you can advertise for a job that has no pay,” Council President Dascal Bunch said.
The posting, which contains a job description, appeared Thursday along with several other city job openings, including three other parks positions that Columbus Parks and Recreation Board members approved announcing. All of the job listings except the park director’s position have a salary or hourly pay range within the job posting.
The director of parks and recreation job has been vacant since Dec. 30 when Brown demoted former director Ben Wagner to parks marketing coordinator. City councilmen, parks board members and the city administration have been involved in a power struggle over who has the right to hire, demote or fire a city parks director since then.
Columbus city councilmen eliminated the parks director’s salary Jan. 21, and moved the money to the parks marketing coordinator’s position. Bunch said the council made this move to prevent the mayor from filling the position until councilmen could obtain legal advice on whether Brown could legally demote Wagner.
The city sought a private legal opinion from Indianapolis law firm Krieg DeVault in January, which a month later upheld Brown’s power to hire or fire a parks director.
The Krieg Devault opinion said the mayor, as executive of the city, had the authority to appoint the parks director subject to the approval of the parks board. It further said that “Indiana law is clear that the mayor has the authority to unilaterally terminate the parks director as such a department head is under the jurisdiction and authority of the executive branch of the city.”
However, the Krieg Devault opinion also said that park statutes provide that the parks board has the authority to appoint its necessary administrative officers and determine duties. The opinion says the statutory authority to appoint positions within the parks department falls into two entities, either the parks board or the parks director.
City councilmen have refused to reinstate the park director’s salary, saying they will wait for their own legal opinion from Bloomington attorney Darla Brown before doing anything.
The job opening was posted Thursday because the city has been without a parks director for two and a half months and “it’s in the best interest of the community that we hire one as soon as possible,” Mayor Kristen Brown said Friday. “My experience has been that a search is a lengthy process, and we want to generate some interest.”
When asked how the city could find someone for a job that currently has no pay, the mayor predicted that at some point the city council would reverse its decision on the salary.
Having the position vacant and the city infighting has already damaged the city’s ability to attract a quality applicant to the position, the mayor said, and finding someone will be “time-consuming and challenging.”
“All I want is for people to know there is an opening, generate some interest, and get back to business,” she said.
Saying the situation was getting “more and more difficult,” Bunch said the mayor’s decision to post the job is another example of her unwillingness to let the parks board do its job.
“If she’s going to pull all the strings, why do you have a parks board?” he asked. “What’s the parks board for if they can’t hire or fire the parks director?”
Parks board member Nancy Ann Brown said Mayor Kristen Brown sent an email with an attachment to parks board members Wednesday night asking the parks board to consider it at a Thursday meeting.
Parks board members couldn’t open the attachment, however, and it arrived too late to be on the parks agenda, Nancy Ann Brown said.
She now suspects it was the parks director job description.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “It shows a lack of cooperation on her part. I am sorry she has chosen to do this.”
She also questioned how a job description could be posted when the parks board had not discussed or approved it.
“It’s my understanding that the city personnel director does not write job descriptions,” Nancy Ann Brown said. “It should have been written by the parks board and then presented to the personnel director.”
Councilman Ryan Brand said he spent several hours with city personnel director Arlette Tinsley on Friday asking how the job description could be posted without parks board approval.
When contacted Friday, Tinsley said as a member of the mayor’s administration, she could not comment, and referred all questions to City Communications and Program Director Chris Schilling.
“I am tired of us not following processes that make any logical sense,” Brand said of the job posting.
The job description has not been approved by the park board and is not the job description Wagner was hired under, Brand said.
One change from Wagner’s job description is that a park director hired under the new job description reports to the “mayor and the parks and recreation board” rather than just the parks board.
The new job description also mentions that the parks director must efficiently manage a “multi-million-dollar budget and capital inventory,” something that was not in the previous job description.
Brand said the mayor is shopping out the job to try to apply pressure on the council so that viable candidates will disappear if they don’t put the money back in the director’s position.
The mayor confirmed she sent an email containing the new job description to parks board members Wednesday, asking them to discuss and approve it at Thursday’s meeting.
She received an email from Parks Board President Brian Russell after the Thursday park board meeting asking to discuss the matter with the mayor. Russell’s office said he was unavailable for comment Friday.
The previous parks director job description before this one came from Wagner, and was never approved by the parks board, the mayor said. She did not know who wrote the previous job description.
The new job description can be changed or replaced, the mayor said, at one point saying, “I can’t believe this is news.”
“A job description would have to be approved by the Parks Board prior to my appointment of a director,” the mayor wrote in an email clarifying her comments about the job description.
She added she does not think the parks board will have a problem approving a parks director she appoints, despite the rancor that has erupted over who the parks director is supervised by, and who can hire or fire the parks director.
As for why the salary range isn’t posted in the job description, the mayor said it’s because there isn’t any salary.
“I assume there will be,” she said. “The sooner the better.”