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No outside ears at executive sessions

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Monday night’s Memorial Park Board meeting ended with some ruffled feathers and it had nothing to do with geese.

The park board passed several new rules Monday to clarify the roles and duties of the ad-hoc committee assigned to them by the Henry County Commissioners.

Back in January, the Henry County Commissioners created an “advisory park board” from applicants they didn’t appoint to the official Memorial Park Board.

At the time, Commissioner Ed Tarantino said this group was essentially an addition to the park board, only without voting powers.

Commissioner Kim Cronk said in March the group of appointments was not an “advisory board,” but was instead an “ad-hoc committee” for the commissioners at Memorial Park Board meetings.

County attorney Joel Harvey said in March there is no statute that gives the ad-hoc committee any specified powers.

The Henry County Commissioners also never gave the ad-hoc committee or the Memorial Park Board specific direction on the role or expectations of these new appointees.

Ad-hoc committee members began attending Memorial Park Board meetings and sharing their opinions about board decisions.

Members of both the park board and the ad-hoc committee expressed frustration in March about the lack of direction from the commissioners on what, exactly, was supposed to be happening between the two groups.

The Memorial Park Board addressed the uncertainty head-on by outlining how the ad-hoc committee will behave at meetings.

“I, for one, was tired of not knowing, so we made our own policy,” said Memorial Park Board President Landon Dean. “We had to start somewhere.”

Dean said the issue of boundaries and expectations came to a head when members of the ad-hoc committee tried to attend a scheduled executive session of the park board.

The park board had intended to discuss personnel matters during this executive session.

Executive sessions are not open to the public. Dean said during these closed meetings, park board members might discuss sensitive employee matters that don’t have to do with the actual governance of the park, but are important to the day-to-day operations.

Because of the confusion surrounding the scope of authority of the ad-hoc committee, Dean decided to cancel the executive session rather than let those members attend it.

Dean didn’t want to talk about park personnel issues with people in the room who aren’t authorized to hear those details.

Dean explained that the ad-hoc committee was created to be the “eyes and ears of the commissioners.”

The commissioners, like other members of the public, are generally not allowed into an executive session of the Memorial Park Board.

“It has to be somebody pertinent to the situation. They can’t just be there to listen,” Dean said.

The Memorial Park Board voted Monday to adopt an official policy regarding the ad-hoc committee.

According to the new policy, the ad-hoc committee will not be in attendance in any Memorial Park Board executive session and will not be included in any written or un-written communication regarding park employee issues.

The policy also states the ad-hoc committee will not vote on any issues during regular board meetings. The committee members are welcome to provide knowledge and input to topics.

The new policy also guarantees the ad-hoc committee a spot on the monthly agenda to share information with the park board. Dean said this is similar to the time granted to all the committees serving Memorial Park.

The policy also clarifies where the ad-hoc committee will sit during park board meetings. Their table is to the left of the park board members, set at a 90 degree angle “to provide the ability for good communication between both groups.”

Dean said members of the ad-hoc committee were not happy about the new policy.

The park board meeting lasted until nearly 9:40 p.m. with heated discussion about what the ad-hoc committee should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

Dean said the question is settled now that the new policy is in place.

In other business, the park board agreed to several community requests Monday.

• The New Castle-Henry County Public Library got permission to host outdoor movies at Memorial Park this summer.

• A “Monarch meadow” of prairie flowers will be installed near the tennis courts to support the local Monarch butterfly population.

• Healthy Communities of Henry County got permission to host a “Weed Wrangle” Sunday, May 5 to take down invasive plants like shrub honeysuckle and autumn olive.

The Memorial Park Board meets again at 7 p.m. Monday, May 20 in the W.G. Smith Building, 2221 N. Memorial Dr., New Castle.