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Danville unhappy as search for next Parks & Rec director moves forward

The City of Danville wants Boyle County to know it’s not happy with how fiscal court has taken the lead on the search for a new parks director. However, others involved in the process say it’s not fiscal court that’s taking the lead, and the city should let the Parks & Recreation Board of Directors do its job.

Danville City Commission made its displeasure known Monday night during a regular meeting, after City Manager Ron Scott gave an update from the Parks & Rec ad hoc committee meeting held earlier that day.

Scott told the commission he’s hoping to have the master park study recommendations returned by consulting firm Brandstetter Carroll in time for the next commission meeting on Aug. 27, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.

“And Monday, during ad hoc, we went through some administrative matters with regard to paving,” Scott said, who is on the committee. “That committee agreed to basically stand down while the master parks planning report is being considered by the full (government) bodies.”

He said he didn’t perceive “hearing anything from that committee for the next few months.”

Commissioner J.H. Atkins asked if there would be an update given to the commission soon about finding a new Parks & Rec director, since John Drake announced his retirement a few months back.

Scott said he was on vacation when the board met and discussed this issue last, but said “the county has taken the lead on developing the job description and advertising it,” and that the deadline for applications for the director position is Sept. 5.

“We will be having discussions about it in September, I guess,” Scott said.

“So, the job description has been developed by fiscal court?” Atkins asked.

“Yes, they have decided to take the lead in trying to recruit for that position, which is a joint position funded by the city and county,” Scott said. “Earlier, we told them we should wait to recruit, pending the review of the master parks study, because there may be a different sort of focus, or something different you’d want to see in the candidate.”

“Were we going to have any input in on that? Will we receive any communication about that?” Commissioner Denise Terry asked.

“You hold the purse strings,” Scott replied. “The city and the county hold the purse strings.”

Scott said the Parks & Rec board’s position is “that’s how practice has been — the Parks & Rec board is the hiring authority. We have talked about having some changes made in the future, but I’d say they’re operating from the perspective that this is the way we’ve done it … that’s the way we’re going to continue to do it.”

“But the last time we did it was 20 years ago, so no one on the court or commission has done it before,” Atkins said. “If it’s a joint endeavor — I want to stress that we need to have ample involvement in the job description, the advertisement for the position and the hiring for the position. You said something about funding. That should be very important to everyone that we have a place and a voice at the table.”

“Let me be more specific in my response to that,” Scott said. He said earlier, Parks & Rec Chair Rodger Ross came to the city and asked for help in terms of developing a job description and advertising the position, and that he and HR Director Donna Peek both came up with some elements of it. The desire was to advertise as soon as possible, Scott said.

“I had communications with (Ross) and it was my understanding that our desire was to wait until at least after we got the report and not advertise until September, after we reviewed the report. Seemingly, the county and the Parks & Rec board felt they needed to move prior to that occurring.”

Terry said, “This could be a great opportunity with this master park study report and plan coming out to do something … It was expressed to both entities that the city wanted to wait and look at the big picture before we advertise for that position.”

Mayor Mike Perros, who had asked earlier in the discussion if any commissioner wanted to make a motion for a specific action on the topic, asked again, “Do you want to make that in some form of a motion? We need something.”

Commissioner Kevin Caudill said he’d like to hear from Commissioner Rick Serres, who is also on the Parks & Rec ad hoc committee. 

“It’s already done; the county has asked for applicants,” Serres said. He said it’s been advertised, and with the deadline of Sept. 5, hopefully it will coincide with when the study is returned. 

“And the county folks are very receptive to what that study will have to say … It was Magistrate (Jack) Hendricks who said to put the pause on ad hoc and put the two bodies together,” Serres said. “I think we just let it happen … I don’t think we need to push anything, we just need to let it happen.”

Atkins asked what City Attorney Stephen Dexter had to say.

“In a review of voluminous documents of the city and county running Parks & Rec, I would remember the history somewhat differently than what was proposed,” Dexter said. “When a previous board was disbanded, the city and county met jointly to craft a job description and did the hiring process jointly. A partnership, by its very definition, is an agreement between two parties.”

Dexter said, “In an ideal situation — when process is important, and we preach that — we would’ve had a job description approved by the city and county hopefully in concert with the strategic plan.”

Later, via email, Dexter explained when a previous director was relieved of his duties, the city and county voted to oversee the creation of a job description and the hiring jointly, as a city and county effort.

“The board was disbanded, in that the city and county voted to do the job posting and hiring, not the Parks & Rec Board,” Dexter wrote. “Eventually, the board was put back in place … but the city and county worked through joint meetings to make that hire. They weren’t acting because there wasn’t a parks board; they actively voted to do it themselves as opposed to the park board.”

Monday night, Atkins said if there’s a message to be sent back, it needs to be that the Danville City Commission desires to have equal partnership and input into the job description and the eventual hiring of the new park director.

“And I’m in favor of joint meetings again to get to that point,” Atkins said. “To go on and do that, against our spoken wishes, it’s just another example of poor communications, I guess.”

“Fair enough. Let them know our preference. For some reason, I’m reminded of Rep. Joe Clarke,” Commissioner Caudill said, referring to the former Democratic House speaker from Danville. “‘If you got ’em by their budget, their hearts and minds will follow.’”

Others disagree with city perspective

Tuesday, Magistrate Hendricks said he was dumbfounded by the city’s attitude. He recalled the disbanding of a former Parks & Rec board, and said it was about 10 years ago. “The (Parks & Rec) board is the same deal as the P&Z board; they (the P&Z board) did an outstanding job finding Steve Hunter (P&Z director). Why don’t they want to leave the board alone and let them do their jobs?”

Although Hendricks did admit: “We (fiscal court) were kind of like the city at first; we thought we should be involved. But after further review … that’s what we appointed that board for. We should let them do their jobs. And I don’t feel like the master parks plan study has anything to do with finding a new director.”

Hendricks, who is also a part of the Parks & Rec ad hoc committee, said both the fiscal court and the ad hoc committee have maintained “since day one that it’s not the court’s responsibility to hire or approve a candidate. It’s the board’s decision. The city should be the same way, but they want a hand in the hiring and approval of someone.”

“I will be real clear about all of this,” said Parks & Rec Chair Ross. “The only person who can hire a Parks & Rec director is the Parks & Rec board.”

Ross also wanted to be clear that retiring Director Drake is retiring due to pension issues with the state.

He pointed out the Parks & Rec Board is already a joint entity — it has seven members, three from the city, one from the county and a joint member. A search committee of three people was also set up with one city representative, one county representative and one joint member. They are Bryce Perry, Dee Coffey and Cecile Napier

He said the county has not “taken the lead” in hiring this person; it is simply helping him with  the process.

Ross said yes, he was originally working with Scott, who helped to create the job description as it is today, and was getting help from the city on advertising the position. After the description was complete and it was time to advertise, the city didn’t want to pull the trigger, he said.

“The city has voiced their objection that we wanted to move forward,” Ross said, but he and the board felt it was critical to begin looking. He took the job description Scott helped with and added some particulars in from Drake, who has been doing the job for more than 20 years now, and got the county’s help with advertising it.

“The (search) committee is going to take the applications and narrow them down to a max of five,” he said.

Even if these applications are all in by Sept. 5, the next meeting where the board will look them over will more than likely be in October, and it could be as late as December before a decision is made, he said.

“We want to make sure we get the best person in there … background searches have to be run on candidates … we want to qualify their references … this person will be working around children, they have to be above any reproach…” he said.

Taking all these steps takes time, he said.

After that happens, Ross said, the board will vote on it.

“Are we going to leave the city and county out? No. If they want to voice their opinion, they’re more than welcome … But the city won’t be able to put their person in there, and the county’s not going to put their person in there. The board is the only body that can hire or fire that person.”

If there needs to be changes made in the position based on any information supplied within the parks study, Ross said the board can tweak the job responsibilities if needed.

“But if we wait until September to advertise … It was my personal decision to ask the county to go ahead and post the job … the county did finalize it and put it out there,” Ross said. “I’m not really sure what Mr. Scott wants from this, but yes I did move forward. And yes, (applications) are due Sept. 5.”