Culver park board eliminates park activities director position

-- Other changes implemented in heated Dec. 20 board meeting --

What could have been assumed to be a quiet, end-of-year park board meeting to tie up business, instead involved heated exchanges and included, among other actions, dissolving the park activities director position.

At the Dec. 20 special park board meeting, board member Rhonda Reinhold proposed discontinuing the position, held by Donna McKee since she was hired in January, 2013. Board members said they would investigate whether McKee's contract is up at the end of January, as board member Patty Stallings suggested.

Asked for the rationale behind the decision by an audience member, Stallings said she hoped that whoever fills the park superintendent position, which the board will soon be advertising, will include activities planning in the job.

Stallings said training content for Indiana University's parks and recreation degree is about one-third focused on activity planning and execution. Reinhold added the board hoped to learn what sort of endeavors could be included in a full-time park superintendent's duties as opposed to the present superintendent, whom she described as part-time.

She also said the board hoped to have a superintendent in place by summer, though board president Tammy Shaffer said the board could expand its search if it doesn't find who it's seeking by then.

The board also voted to ensure at least one park board member has a full set of keys to the beach lodge, including Young's apartment, as a safety measure "in case something happens." Audience member Russ Mason suggested the board consider a lock box to gain entry, whose key only the EMS and fire and police departments would have access to.

Also approved by the board was capping what the park superintendent can spend at $500 per purchase, something Stallings noted is the case at the Culver Public Library (she added the town clerk has a $1,000 spending limit).

Asked about emergency spending, Reinhold proposed Young could contact two park board members, as is the case with Culver’s utilities manager when an emergency takes place, for approval of quick payment over $500 in case of situations such as electrical fires or furnaces going out, as board member John Helphrey described.

An advertisement for the park superintendent position has been created, said Stallings, and will appear in the local newspaper as well as the South Bend newspaper and Indiana parks and recreation website for job postings. Stallings is looking into universities with parks and recreations degrees for venues to list the job, and Reinhold said she contacted the president of the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association for help in promoting the job opening.

Some debate ensued as to whether the park work of current superintendent Kelly Young -- who also works full-time during the school year as a Culver Elementary School special education teacher -- is part or full-time. Young said she spends some 91 hours a week at her post during the summer and around 32 hours per week the rest of the year.

An audience member asked if Young's benefits are derived from the town of Culver or the school. Reinhold said Young has retirement funding from both entities and disability and life insurance through the town, though her health insurance is by way of the school, though Reinhold added that Young's health insurance was derived from the town for the first 20 years of her 27-year employment as park super.

Noting some have suggested Young's residence in the park beach lodge apartment is a benefit of her job, Shaffer asked Young if she had paid taxes on the apartment, which Young said she had not.

Park board attorney Rachel Arndt said she's still researching the matter, but understood Young should have been issued a W2 tax form for use with the apartment.

"I'm not saying it's your fault," Arndt emphasized to Young, "and I'm not a tax expert....I'm just trying to get an idea of the situation with that apartment."

Shaffer said the current park board is trying to correct the failures of past boards in not acting according to statute in matters such as the apartment.

One audience member described the situation inherited by the board as "a hot mess," and suggested the blame is unfairly falling on Young herself.

Shaffer asked if those raising concerns have "been to (park board meetings)" to follow the situation.

Audience member Kathy Montgomery said she has read and heard about current goings-on with the park board, which she described as "bullying" and "shameful." She went on to suggest the park board give Young a chance to implement changes wrongly left undone by the board in the past.

"We did that," replied Reinhold. "We authorized (purchase of) a Point of Sale (cash register) and bought a computer, and it's not used yet. It's the law."

When pressed by Montgomery to "fix" past board mishandling, Arndt said she and the board were in the process of trying to do just that, noting policies like the superintendent spending cap should have been put into place years ago, and are the norm in other municipalities.
Montgomery said she saw "innocent people being railroaded," and audience members Ed and Lora Pinder, and son Ed Jr., suggested during another portion of the meeting that the board was attacking Young.

Board member John Helphrey, expressing appreciation and respect for Montgomery's opinion, said he had first asked to be on the park board because in the past three or four years he saw a number of things needing to be changed.

"You talk about people being hurt," said Helphrey. "We had someone die (by drowning last summer) and nothing changed afterwards...There's never a lifeguard at the other end of the park and no one walking at the other end of the beach.

Helphrey said he'd been going to the park for years and wouldn't feel confident allowing his young grandchildren to swim there alone.

"What happens when we have a death? Nothing," he continued. "Nothing changes. They take out the swimming pier."

Helphrey went on to mention an incident involving a Hobie Cat sailboat on the beach endangering the safety of children there, referenced the installation of a public pier last April which was unsafe for use but had no purchase contract as a recourse, and said the beach lodge is "a wreck" needing hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs. He said the engineer from Culver Academies visited the building along with park board members, and suggested it could "blow up today." He also questioned why audience members raising concerns raised none about safety at the park.

"The first 10 years (on the job), you're learning, “Helphrey said. "The second ten you should know what you're doing, but the third ten years, there should be no mistakes. There have been lots of problems in the last five or six's time for a change."

When an audience member suggested the problems were the fault of board decisions, Helphrey agreed, adding the board pays sizable sums of money for flowers and approves 5k runs and "glamour shows for kids, but how many even show up?"

Shaffer added many decisions should never have been in the hands of the superintendent alone up to now.

"I sat on this board for two terms before this board came on," she said. "I couldn't get any changes because they entrusted a single person with all the decisions and took for granted what she was doing.

"I understand you all know Kelly and she's been in the community. We aren't attacking a person here. We are setting standards; she may (fulfill) those standards and if not, someone else will."

When questioned by Helphrey about his response to Shaffer's words, audience member Ed Pinder Jr. described them with an expletive, prompting Helphrey to suggest Pinder leave if he wished to use "that kind of language."

Pinder, refusing, suggested the police be called towards making him leave.

Reinhold suggested last summer's drowning death would normally result in the termination of a park superintendent, adding the incident opened up the park to litigation.

"Read the DNR report (on the incident), and you'll understand," Reinhold added. "We don't have a choice."

Audience member Tom Kearns, noting there's "a lot of emotion on both sides," suggested the solution may lie in establishing firm policies and procedures. Montgomery called on the board to allow Young to learn the policies and procedures and be given a chance to implement them, and that she "needs your support."

Kearns' report on policies and procedures included his reading of a policy statement developed by the policy committee on which he sits.
Specifically he emphasized the need for the board to approve a policy regarding the ready-to-install skating rink prior to its being opened to the public.

Considerable discussion ensued regarding the rink, which Arndt described as "a lawsuit waiting to happen" without policy and procedures, as well as staff training. It was suggested the town would incur no greater liability leaving the rink unstaffed, provided proper signage was installed there, which Young said she had ready to erect.

Young also said volunteer Chris Chambers asked to delay installation until the weekend of Dec. 28, given the rainy weather forecast for the Dec. 21 weekend.

The board agreed to a Dec. 26 special meeting at 4:45 p.m. in hopes of approving the rink policy and procedures, to facilitate its opening.

Kearns also reported, representing the tree commission, that six trees have been listed as priority to remove, though one -- a popular mulberry tree in the west end of the park -- will be remediated instead of removed. He did explain budgeting funds for removal yet this winter is "critical."

Eleven trees should be pruned in the near future, he added.