Whitehall News

'Differences of opinion'

Parks director will stay put after conflict with mayor

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Despite the recent tumult between them, Whitehall Parks and Recreation Director Steve Carr and Mayor Kim Maggard appear prepared to move forward together on the city's goals to improve recreational programming and build a community center.

"It is my hope that, even though we have differences of opinion, that we can work through those. I look forward to finding common ground with the mayor," said Carr.

Maggard said she sought a conference with Carr late last month and was considering removing him from the position.

"But I would have listened to what he had to say before making that decision," Maggard said.

The incident became stickier when Councilman Wes Kantor, upon learning of the mayor's request last week to meet with Carr and possibly dismiss him, asked City Attorney Mike Shannon to reconsider his legal opinion that the mayor has purview over the recreation director's position.

The opinion surfaced from a series of questions asked by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Shannon corrected himself April 1, informing Maggard that the mayor does not have purview over the director.

Kantor said it is well-known that the parks and recreation director, per the city charter, serves at the pleasure of the Parks and Recreation Commission, not the mayor, contrary to most other cities.

"I knew she couldn't fire (Carr)," said Kantor, who is chairman of City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee, a separate entity composed of council members.

Councilwoman Leslie LaCorte said she appreciates Maggard's zeal to improve the city's park system, but criticized her singling out Carr and the use of "fear and intimidation" to achieve an outcome.

Carr said he had received a call from the mayor's secretary requesting a meeting with Maggard but was later told the mayor's schedule would not allow it.

"I didn't know the purpose of the meeting, but I had a pretty good idea, though," said Carr.

Carr said Maggard never asked him to resign but that a member of the commission informed him it was the mayor's intent to seek his resignation or fire him, at a time when she believed she had the authority to do so.

Commission member Greg Thurman said Maggard informed commission members in advance of her intention to fire Carr, based on Shannon's legal opinion, then alerted commission members she would not seek his dismissal, based on the revised legal opinion.

"The mayor did solicit support from commission members to dismiss (Carr)," Thurman said.

A regularly scheduled meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission was held March 27, during which members voted 4-3 to hold a closed session to discuss personnel matters, Thurman said.

Maggard and Carr both were present at the executive session.

Thurman would not divulge the specifics of the meeting, but confirmed that Maggard, in other correspondence, told commission members she would not support construction of a community center if Carr remained as director.

Maggard said at the time she spoke with commission members, she felt the department, under Carr's leadership, was not taking the steps necessary to improve programming and infrastructure.

"It is my duty as mayor, to our citizens, to wisely spend their tax dollars. We scrap for every dollar and our residents deserve the best park system possible," Maggard said.

"I'm a results-oriented mayor. I call it how I see it and (Carr) isn't reaching (some) goals."

Maggard said she does not question the Parks and Recreation Commission, whose members have given Carr positive job performance reviews each year since he was hired in 2010.

"They give their time and talent, but only one has any parks and recreation experience," Maggard said.

However, Thurman questioned the mayor's pledge of support.

"She said she supports the commission, yet she disregards our review of (Carr). It doesn't add up," he said.

Thurman said the commission fully supports Carr and never considered his dismissal.

"His past performance evaluations are excellent," he said. "(We) all are very happy with the job he is doing.

"We look forward to continued improvements, including a recreation center, and hope the mayor will agree to disagree and work with us (on achieving our common goals)," Thurman said.

Carr said while there had been "points of contention" with Maggard since she began serving as mayor in January 2012, there had been nothing to indicate she considered his dismissal.

"To me, it came out of the blue because of a bad legal opinion," said Carr, who added he wants to put the incident in the past.

"I have no interest in (a standoff). I want to move forward and get the people's work done," he said.

"I didn't all of a sudden forget how to be an effective parks and recreation director," said Carr, who served 11 years as the director of the Pickerington Parks and Recreation Department prior to joining Whitehall.

"It's just some differences of opinion. I look forward to finding some more common ground with the mayor."

For her part, Maggard said she is waiting for the results of a parks and recreation master plan from EMH&T, for which the city paid $25,000.

Based on the results of the master plan, Maggard said she intends to work with Carr and the commission toward the construction of a community center and other improvements to the city's parks and recreation system.

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