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Parks director job still on hold

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A request for “serious discussion” about the parks director job description from Columbus Parks and Recreation Board member David Jones resulted in no reaction from other board members Thursday — and no discussion.

Park board members received an email last month from Mayor Kristen Brown seeking approval for a revised parks director job description. Some board members did not read the mayor’s email until after their March 13 meeting, and it was not on the agenda or discussed at that meeting.

Brown then posted the job description on the city’s website seeking applicants for the position even though — after a change by the city council — there is no money in the salary ordinance to pay the next director.

When asked why she was posting a job that had no pay, the mayor said the city has been without a parks director for months and “it’s in the best interest of the community that we hire one as soon as possible.”

The search could be a lengthy process, and the city wanted to generate interest, Brown said in an interview after posting the job.

Thursday’s decision by park board members to take no action on the job description means the mayor cannot move forward in selecting a candidate. Last month, in an email, she said she could not select a candidate until the park board approves the job description. Indiana law calls for the mayor to appoint a parks director, but the choice must be approved by the park board.

Thursday, when Jones said the job description “warrants a serious discussion,” none of the other board members responded.

“We need to be looking at it seriously,” Jones said to them.

After a pause, Brian Russell, the park board president, said board members would review the job description. He told board members to address any questions about it to City Attorney Jeff Logston, who was at the Thursday meeting. Russell then moved on to financial reports, which was the next agenda item.

The Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has been functioning without a permanent director since Dec. 30 when Brown demoted Ben Wagner to parks marketing coordinator. Since then, city council members, park 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.

Columbus City Council members eliminated the parks director’s salary Jan. 21 and moved the money to the parks marketing coordinator’s position, which Wagner holds. Council President Dascal Bunch said the council made this move to prevent the mayor from filling the position until council members could obtain legal advice on whether Brown could legally demote Wagner.

The city sought its 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 park board. It further said: “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 park 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 park board or the parks director.

The city council has refused to reinstate the parks director’s salary, saying the members will wait for their own legal opinion from Bloomington attorney Darla Brown before doing anything.

That opinion may be coming soon, Bunch said Thursday, but he could not give a date when it would be released.

Park board member Nancy Ann Brown, a former Columbus mayor, said she wants to wait for the Darla Brown opinion before discussing the parks director job description in a park board meeting.

Russell said he had a few more questions about the job description that he wanted to ask Logston on his own.

In the meantime, the council will not budge from its position of withholding funding for the parks director position from the salary ordinance until the legal gray area of who can hire or fire a director is clarified, Bunch said.

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