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Swimming pier voted to return in 2014 during contentious park meeting

August 16, 2013

After all the sound and fury preceding the August 7 concerning the recent removal of the public beach swimming pier, discussion and action regarding the removal actually passed fairly quickly. Verbal altercations between various board members, and audience and board members, however, dominated the meeting virtually throughout.

Park board president Tammy Shaffer, apparently prepared for an expected verbal firestorm in the packed town hall meeting room (attendees spilled out into the hallway), had a small bell in front of her, which she rang occasionally throughout the meeting to enforce her strict rule that all citizens' input would be limited to the portion of the meeting designated for such, something one audience member criticized later. Citizens' input was held at the end of the meeting.

The matter of the pier removal came up well into the meeting, and was sparked by board member Rhonda Reinhold's expression of concern that a large Hobie Cat boat was sailed through the swimming area and onto a beach crowded with young children. Park superintendent Kelly Young said space on the beach to park the boat had been rented for $30, and the craft was allowed within the buoys since it's not a motorized vehicle. She said she told Reinhold at the time that she would discontinue the practice.

"We have a superintendent who wants to take a pier out because it's unsafe for children," said board member Patty Stallings, "but lets a great big Hobie Cat that's not that easy to steer (onto the beach) -- it just is unbelievable. This was a Sunday and there were over 100 people there."

A protest march took place at the town park July 28 in response to a decision by Young -- with approval of Shaffer -- to remove the swimming pier due to what Young described as an ongoing pattern of bad behavior by some patrons.

At the park board meeting, Stallings read out loud a letter to the editor criticizing the decision, which was printed in the Aug. 1 edition of The Culver Citizen. She also said Young "overreached her power and authority and usurped (the board's)" in removing the pier.
Reinhold added there had been no precedent forewarning the board of danger at the pier.

Board member Leroy Bean, acknowledging taking out the pier "might not have been a good idea," added the "aftermath was...tacky," presumably a reference to the protest march, in which Stallings took part.

Shaffer said the pier removal process "was not as smooth as it should have been" and noted she later received a "chain of command flow chart" which helped shed light on what had seemed to her the unclear question of who Young answers to.

"When Kelly asked me (about removing the pier), what ran through my mind was safety, safety, safety, because at every meeting we've had, the public and park board members have focused on safety."
She said she researched the matter and learned no laws were broken in how the decision making was handled, but that she herself nonetheless didn't have the right to make the decision to remove on her own.

"I'll admit to making a mistake," Shaffer said. "I'm all about accountability."

Reinhold added that "nobody ever died on that pier and it's needed for the lifeguards to get out deep (quickly)."

The board unanimously voted to put the pier back in, but not until May, 2014 -- since school starts shortly and beach use will drop dramatically -- and not without added safety precautions, which Bean suggested.

BOARD MAKEUP - A CHANGE IN NUMBER?

The previously-debated question of whether to add or subtract a park board member in order to break the even number of six members, led to Reinhold moving to add another member.

She noted the board had "tied" on "several important occasions," resulting in no action on a proposed decision. Board member Ed Behnke responded that he could only remember one tie in 22 years, though Reinhold said ties took place regarding a proposed beer festival earlier this year, and a floating pier last year.

Reinhold also suggested a seventh board member might facilitate more time and energy put into board matters, and could also help achieve a quorum, something the board failed to meet on a number of occasions, especially in the winter, in recent years. Behnke noted the park board is not required to meet monthly. Bean also said he felt the board has been "getting along just fine" with its current numbers.

Bean's remark to Reinhold that, "If the chair wants you to talk, she'll tell you," prompted Stallings to call his words, "a hostile (and personal) remark," one of many instances of board members openly sparring during the meeting.

Board member Kathy Hart suggested reducing, rather than enlarging, the number of board members to attain an odd number.

In the end, only Reinhold and Stallings voted in favor of adding a member, causing the motion to fail.

During the citizens' input portion of the meeting, audience member Ginny Munroe, a member of the town council, pointed out the decision to add or subtract a park board member doesn't lie with the park board, but instead with the town council, something Shaffer said the park board understood.

BUDGETING ERRORS

Tabled after some discussion was any decision on quote packets for a new storage shed proposed to be built on the town-owned municipal lot near the park.

Reinhold announced to the board that she and Stallings discovered, through research on state code, that money for the project was improperly encumbered. Stallings said she spoke to the State Board of Accounts and Dept. of Local Government and Finance, and learned that $55,000 for four various items or projects encumbered in December, 2012, were illegitimate since they lacked legal purchase orders or contracts with specifications and bids. She read a quote from town clerk Karen Heim explaining that superintendent Young had obtained quotes for the projects or items, but not purchase orders or contracts.

The designated park funds, Heim's letter continued, will return to the park rather than be lost to the general fund, and could potentially still be used for their designated purposes this year, but only by way of the additional appropriation process and permission from the state DLGF.

The largest amount of money was set aside for a 2 by 30 foot block building with a concrete pad, Stallings said, adding the lack of bid requests or contract invalidated the purchase order for the building. Legal and valid, she said, was the purchase order for the second half of the cost of a partial floating, partial stationary public pier installed in April at just over $22,000.

Reinhold also said the amounts on purchase orders and budgeted amounts didn't match.

Behnke suggested the town itself had had no problem with the way the matter was handled, but it was Stallings and Reinhold who are "upset." Reinhold responded that the town council won't approve of the encumbrances once it's informed of their status.

Behnke suggested board members are not to engage in park business unless a board meeting is in session, with the exception of the secretary and president.

"What are you talking about?" asked Reinhold. "I asked a question in an open meeting and was told there was a P.O. I hadn't recalled a vote or bid and I wanted to learn more about encumbrances...that's my job as a board member. If something is wrong, I need to go ask questions."

Behnke, acknowledging the encumbrances may not have been done correctly, asked, "What are you trying to do?"

"I was trying to make sure things were done correctly," Reinhold replied.

Shaffer also acknowledged the matter wasn't handled legally, but emphasized it wasn't done so intentionally. She suggested waiting to consult the town attorney, and expressed appreciation that the matter was brought up. The board agreed to table the issue pending the attorney's availability.

Lengthy discussion followed concerning the park's budget, currently in process. Stallings suggested forming a finance committee made up of two park board members and three citizens. Reinhold, appointed to sit on the park board by way of her role on the library board, concurred, noting the library board "runs extremely smoothly" and handles its budget by way of a finance committee.

RELOCATION OF RECORDS, HEATED EXCHANGES

Reinhold, citing Indiana code, also said all park board related books and records are property of the board, and suggested storage of those items in the superintendent's purview at the beach lodge prevents them from being regularly accessed by board members, due to Young's inability at certain times of the week. Instead, Reinhold suggested the items be stored at the town hall.

Behnke noted staff limitations should be taken into account regarding requests for documents.

"We've tried to get into (Young's) apartment, that the taxpayers own, for a year," Reinhold said, prompting Shaffer to ring the bell and interject that the discussion was "getting way too personal...I am hearing a lot of distrust and accusations, and I don't want any part of that...this town needs to work together, not against each other."
Stallings insisted the request was "not personal."

Heated debate also ensued concerning proper procedures, with audience member Jim Hahn insisting the board had to vote once a motion had been made and seconded, and Hart and others insisting otherwise. In the end, Reinhold and Stallings voted in favor of moving the documents, with other board members voting against.

Reinhold also questioned whether the board has an active enough role in the budget process, rather than allowing Young to create and push through the budget. Shaffer and Behnke noted the board reviews and approves the budget before it's ratified.

Reinhold and Stallings also raised concerns that some areas of the budget weren't detailed enough, such as the "Miscellaneous" category, which lacks line items for various specific areas of spending.

Reinhold asked for deeper documentation of money spent within the budget as well. Asked if she had approached Young with her questions, Reinhold said she feared Young wouldn't take questions "the right way...I'm afraid she's going to get mad at me. The hostility (on the board) is so bad I have to go outside to learn. If I ask here, I'm attacked."

The board did vote -- with Bean the lone "nay" -- in favor of creating a finance committee, with the same scenario repeated (including Bean's lone vote against) in response to Stallings' motion to create a similar standing policy committee to establish policy and create a policy manual.

SUPERINTENDENT'S REPORT

During her report, Young said specialized Lake Max benches fabricated by local businessman Tim Yuhas would be installed in the park in the next few weeks. She also said the beach lodge would be closed during the week starting August 12, with no lifeguards posted. The lodge and lifeguards will be open and working on weekends but with reduced lifeguard hours of 9 to 5, and building hours of 9 to 6.

Young further said she is working to set up meetings at the middle and high school to discuss with students there how the park can better meet the needs of local teens.

Stallings brought up a recent tour the board took of the park and its grounds, suggesting the buildings there are deteriorated and the beach lodge in particular showing leakage through lower level windows. She said the lodge's meeting room needs updating and improvements in the kitchen and bathrooms, adding that improving those areas would be money better spent than on a new restroom in the west pavilion of the park. She also said the circa 1884 west picnic pavilion and nearby storage building are in need of repairs.

AUDIENCE INPUT

Shaffer read a letter sent to the board by Kay Davis, who wrote she was responding to coverage of the protest march in the Culver Citizen, as well as Stallings' letter to the editor in the same edition. Davis defended Young's handling of the pier situation, adding "most beaches on lakes and oceans don't have swimming piers" and adding the view is "more spectacular and it's certainly much safer" without the pier.

Davis' letter also suggested "at least one park (board) member is out on a vendetta against the park superintendent (and) the vendetta style of tactics are not needed. I sure hope the good people of Culver will see through this fog of reasoning."

Reinhold questioned characterization of any park board member's actions as a "vendetta" and said information suggests "it would be more of a safety issue to have the pier taken out."

Citizen input included encouragement from audience member Tom Kearns to Reinhold and Stallings to continue "bringing points up that people care about." He also corrected Young on a comment she made during a tour of the park with the Culver tree commission and its arborist, that budgeting for trees in the park is confidential, which he said is untrue. He also questioned why trees aren't a budget item, to which Young replied tree trimming falls under the budget line of contractual services, and additional trees under "other supplies."

Bean agreed with Kearns' assertion that such items should be identified more specifically in the budget.

Ginny Munroe asked which board members had reviewed state statutes and encouraged the board to be more transparent. She also emphasized the board is ultimately responsible for decisions and spending, rather than a committee, the town clerk, or the superintendent.

"Learn your budget," she said, citing town marshal Wayne Bean as an example of a town department leader who keeps a tight and very specific budget. "Don't attack someone because they've studied the statute and have questions. Transparency is important to what you're doing. Read the statute...get with the lawyer or someone who understands."

Audience member Ed Pinder pressed to remind the board of the importance of the planned-for public restroom on the west end of the park, which he noted must be predicated by a new storage building.
Reinhold agreed a restroom is "a great idea," but countered that "spending $55,000 to house a donated Gator (utility vehicle) is fiscally irresponsible." She also suggested housing pier sections which have been "littered along the walkway" in the park throughout each winter, marring the public's only view of the lakefront "eight months of the year."

Audience member Jean Rakich, encouraging the large crowd to attend more board meetings, called the present meeting "a disgrace," adding many board members attached one another.

John Helphrey, in the audience, attributed some of the "animosity" cited to the conduct of the board itself. He listed several past controversies, ending with the lack of action on the board-approved purchase of Point of Sale computerized cash register equipment, which he said some in the public had been advocating for three years.
Shaffer said she took responsibility for not following up on the purchase, which the board approved earlier this year, and said she would do so.

Audience member Tracy Derovic criticized the decision to remove the swimming pier and asked why more lifeguards weren't on duty at the beach. Applause followed her admonition that safety is more important "than a wristband," an allusion to her suggestion that less staff members are needed applying wristbands at the gate and more on active lifeguard duty.

Several audience members countered the claim that the evening's debates represented a "vendetta" or were personal attacks.

"Sitting in that chair," said Munroe, referring to her own role as a council member, "sometimes you wish so and so would shut up, but it's our job and they're paying their money. There are good reasons to have more frequent meetings, so you don’t have three-hour agendas."

Tim Yuhas, also in the audience, suggested Young or the board create a "map" of the specially-installed parts of the public fishing pier, since several out-of-the-ordinary adjustments had to be made to stabilize it, and the installer next spring may have trouble putting all the parts in the right places.

The board also noted a safety work session would take place at the beach lodge meeting room Aug. 29 at 7 p.m.

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