Columbus mayor, park board members at odds

Feud stems from demotion of park director

COLUMBUS, Ind. - Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and board members of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department are at odds.

The mayor was a no-show for a meeting of the parks board on Thursday and other city leaders were left wondering what happened.

The mayor was on the agenda for the meeting and board member Mary Tucker said she was shocked that Brown didn’t show up.

"I just wish she would have been here so we could resolve this issue today that's what I wish," Tucker said.

The issue stems from the demotion of park director Ben Wagner by the mayor back in January. The community remains divided over the issue.

Brown said Wagner misused a city credit card, among other allegations. Wagner said the claims are false.

Some city leaders think the mayor overstepped her authority by demoting Wagner.

"We don't feel like even with the justification she gave everyone that there was just cause to demote him," City Councilor Dascal Bunch said.

Instead of public comments and discussion at Thursday’s meeting, board President Brian Russell read from a statement.

Russell and Nancy Ann Brown met with the mayor and city attorney Tuesday to negotiate some sort of solution to the city’s problem of not having a park board director.

The mayor wants to hire a new director, but first, the board needs to ask the council for money.

"We're still holding the director’s salary at zero, so at some point in time if they've got things resolved, they need to come to us so we can give them the money back," Bunch said.

It is now up to the mayor to recommend someone to serve as the new park director, but the board will have to OK that nomination, and that could be a tall task.

The board has asked the city council to examine a severance package for Wagner who is currently the marketing and public relations coordinator for city parks.

Follow Drew Smith on Twitter: @drewsmith1

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