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A Culver town council vote Jan. 17 to leave parks and recreation board member Patty Stallings on that board didn't close the matter. Instead, debate over the matter was very much alive at last week's (Jan. 24) council meeting, and may be decided with finality at the Feb. 8 meeting.
As was the case Jan. 17, the controversy centered on Stallings' party affiliation, since four of the park board's six seats must be evenly split between Democrats or Republicans.
Stallings, a registered Republican in the 2004 and 2010 primaries, agreed to switch parties when she was appointed to replace departing Democrat Ed Pinder Jr., who left the position mid-term last year. Some audience and council members argued Stallings voted in the Republican caucus in November and campaigned for Republican candidates, and therefore should not have been re-appointed when registered Democrat Rhonda Reinhold had asked to serve on the park board in Stallings' stead.
A majority of council members, however, voted to keep Stallings on the board, at the Jan. 17 meeting.
During the citizen input portion of the Jan. 24 meeting, park board president Leroy Bean asked council members why the town is "running with an illegal board you guys created.
"This is nothing personal," added Bean, asking the ramifications of the imbalanced board should the town apply for a park-related grant, or in other contexts.
Town attorney Jim Clevenger said he wasn't sure the board was technically illegal, though he conceded town statutes call for four evenly split members, with two additional members appointed by various other entities, though without the requirement of political balance.
Council member Lynn Overmyer said party affiliation takes a back seat to the quality of a board member's performance, but added the council should uphold any requirement of balance; council president Ed Pinder agreed.
Council member Ginny Munroe said comparable situations exist on other boards, pointing out some local Democrats changed party affiliation in order to vote for a local candidate in a county-level election. She added there's no precedent for forcing an incumbent member from a board due to a letter of interest in the position from a new individual.
"It's really hard to tell who's a Republican or Democrat in this town," said Munroe. "Patty had Democrat signs in her yard, and so did I."
Munroe is a registered Republican.
Pinder said he wasn't sure if the council could rescind its already-made vote on the matter.
Attorney Clevenger asked what Stallings' response might be, should she be forced off the board, given the existing vote to leave her on. However, he said, "If your inclination is to reconsider the matter, I think you could probably justify (a reversal in position)."
Marshall County commissioner Kevin Overmyer, in the audience, noted elected officials should default to their oath of office to "uphold the law of the land."
Munroe pointed out there has been no primary yet, to prove or disprove whether Stallings will indeed change her party to Democrat.
"Then I can just change to a Democrat to vote one way or another?" asked Lynn Overmyer.
"People do that," replied Munroe. "It's their civil right to change their party. She hasn't had a chance to change her party yet."
After more discussion, the council agreed to table the matter until its next meeting.
Town manager search
In other discussion, Pinder updated the audience on the search for a new town manager for Culver, noting at a meeting earlier that same evening, council agreed to contact six candidates they selected, to see if any are still interested in the job. If nothing comes of that pursuit, the position will be re-advertised.
Come Alive Outside
Attorney Clevenger will draft a resolution which could make Culver the first designated "Come Alive Outside" community in the United States.
That decision came after a presentation by local landscaper Tony Sellers, who described the "Come Alive" initiative in terms of rampant obesity and reduced time spent in nature among American children and families. As he has done on behalf of other local organizations, Sellers described a meeting of landscapers in Chicago during which Come Alive Outside was discussed as a community initiative to encourage and foster outdoor activity through various avenues.
So far, said Sellers, one community in Canada has been formally designated a Come Alive Outside community, signaling its commitment to the ideals of the program.
He said events such as winter carnival activities associated with the ice fishing tournament planned here over the Feb. 10 weekend exemplify the initiative.
"We're trying to create a movement," Sellers explained, noting more information can be found on comealiveoutside.com, on which Sellers himself has been featured on webinars with other groups and individuals.
"For me, it's a way to give back," he added. "It's not a charitable organization. It's, 'What does the park need, what will it cost, and how will we pay?' I've met with (park superintendent Kelly Young), asked the schools, and there's the Culver Boys & Girls Club. Our goal is to create more events."
Pinder noted Sellers' enthusiasm "is catching," in discussing drafting the resolution.
Grant options for Culver
Grant writer Shannon McLeod discussed with council its next move in light of changed federal regulations regarding income surveys, in order to qualify Culver to be eligible for planning grant monies for which the town had sought to apply.
She said a door-to-door survey of more residents would cost about $2,500, though she could not guarantee that the results of the survey would put Culver in eligible status. However, she said she thought Culver would score well otherwise in such grant applications, as trends tend towards funding communities which can prove ongoing stability, as opposed to impoverished and dying communities. She also said grant funding in general has been cut, though a recent federal stimulus package did go through.
Overmyer suggested McLeod research comparable communities to Culver, to discern the likelihood of receiving such funding, before proceeding.
MCEDC visits, other matters
Marshall County Economic Development Corporation executive director Jennifer Laurent also paid the council a visit, discussing the mission of the organization to increase local business profitability, adding the MCEDC's "true, day-to-day focus is on business retention."
Visits with area businesses have shown a primary challenge facing them is identifying people with skills or trainability, and a dearth of options for training people, Laurent noted.
She described Culver as "a hotbed of entrepreneurial energy (which) attracts people who are creative...this town has such an identity that we celebrated in our marketing materials for Marshall County. We definitely consider Culver an asset."
Laurent also recognized Culver's Kevin Berger, in the audience, who serves as chair of the MCEDC.
Approved on first reading was an ordinance modifying fines for various offenses in the town of Culver, as drawn up by Culver police chief Wayne Bean and Clevenger. A public hearing on the ordinance will take place Feb. 14.
Bean told the council his department was recognized last month following its participation in a task force in spring and summer, alongside other departments in Marshall County, for a pilot policing program. The departments, he said, split a $7,500 equipment grant, of which Culver's police force received $1,500.
Pinder read a letter from Bill Cleavenger of Culver, resigning his position as a member of Culver's plan commission, and withdrawing his name as a possible member of Culver's redevelopment commission.
Near the close of the meeting, Pinder announced his resignation as president of the council, though he will continue to serve as a member. Pinder cited the amount of extra work associated with the presidency as primary reason. A new president and vice president will be chosen at the next council meeting.