During a special meeting Monday, the Porter Park Board unanimously rejected
the Town Council’s request to transfer all Park Department employees to the
council’s jurisdiction effective Jan. 3.
Council president Michele Bollinger has said doing so would streamline town
Park Board vice-president Becky Maranto disagreed. “I personally find this
(streamlining) to be a horrendous mistake that would negatively impact the
Town of Porter Parks system.”
President Patty Raffin said ever since the Park Board was created by town
ordinance in 1934 it has operated as an autonomous board with its own
employees as state law provides. “The idea that the park superintendent has
to report to the town council in order to properly fulfill his job is
Member Jessie Campaniello said the Park Board hasn’t been told what their
restructured role would be sans employees other than as “festival or party
planners,” and she did not want to see years of past effort to improve
Porter parks trampled “just because of a potential power struggle or hidden
agenda by the Town Council.”
Park officials said they are concerned about job security for 22-year park
superintendent Jim Miller and 19-year park administrator Stephanie Miller if
the council assumes jurisdiction over them.
Rondi Wightman, whose term on the Park Board ends Dec. 31 unless
reappointed, said her board has made repeated requests of the Town Council
to obtain in writing a job description, any new organnizational chart that
would impact park employees, and assurance that the streamlining effort
wasn’t intended as a means to terminate the park superintendent.
“Our requests were all denied,” said Wightman
She also said while it may frustrate some or all council members that they
can’t give Miller orders, he is not their employee and the council’s special
requests do not fall under his job description unless specifically
authorized by the Park Board.
The council meets tonight at 7 p.m. Member Jon Granat, liaison to the Park
Department, said the park matter is not on the council agenda and he doesn’t
think any action will occur regarding it.
The Park Board motion included rejection of the council’s proposed defunding
of the Park Board’s overall budget by the amount required to pay park
employees. Tonight the council will consider a resolution to transfer
appropriations but a town hall spokesperson said this will deal with routine
Raffin criticized the council for presenting the employee-transfer request
to the Park Board as a done deal without the council ever having discussed
it publicly or allowing for public input.
Former Porter council president Bill Sexton announced last night that he has
filed a formal complaint with Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack
challenging the Dec. 14 joint executive session at which the employee
transfer was discussed.
The council called the non-public meeting and invited the Park Board to
attend to discuss job performance of individual park employees, but Sexton’s
PAC complaint alleges that 80 percent of the closed meeting dealt with a
discussion of changes to policy and procedure related to the proposed
employee transfer instead.
Bollinger has been asked to submit a formal response on behalf of the town
and the PAC office indicated an advisory opinion would be issued in about 30
Last night, Sexton said the council is attempting to have the Park Board
circumvent town ordinance by agreeing to transfer its employees. Coupled
with the lack of public discussion when it appears the council already has
reached consensus, he added, “I think it’s all wrong. I think you’re
violating a lot of things.”
Sexton also disagreed with Granat when the latter said Jim Miller has two
bosses, the council and the Park Board. Replied Sexton, “Jim has one boss,
the Park Board.”
Town resident Judy Chemma, one of 11 attending last night’s park meeting,
said she was furious when she read about the council request because it
never was open for public comment.
Chemma said years ago another Porter Town Council unsuccessfully tried to
challenge that Park Board, and it’s upsetting to her the current council is
trying to revisit a situation that’s already been dealt with. “If it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it,” she urged.
Zathoe Sexton, a former Park Board president, said it’s a moot point that
the council would be more available to the park superintendent because the
council meets twice a month. Park Board members can indicate preferences to
the superintendent between monthly meetings and respond to council liaison
concerns, she added.
Sitting Park Board members read individual statements prior to their vote.
Maranto said the employee swap leaves the Park Board rather powerless as to
how and when work would be done in Porter’s parks. “It is unclear to me as
to why this would be beneficial in any way, shape or form...to change this
now is perplexing.”
Campaniello said transferring oversight of park employees to the
already-busy council could overwhelm it “and leave both a negative effect
and negative impact on the Porter Parks as a whole.”
She also said the Park Board might be more agreeable to the council’s stated
big future plans for Porter parks, especially Hawthorne, if only the Town
Council would provide specific details what they are.
Raffin said the Park Board has worked and can continue to work with the
council on joint projects, like the Hawthorne community building upgrades,
and the Park Board has allowed the use of the park superintendent’s time at
council request to plow snow and maintain lawns at the police station and
Added Raffin, “The park system in Porter is considered the ‘Jewel of Porter’
as described by our branding committee and outside consultants.”
Raffin said she voted no because under state law the Park Board is charged
with hiring and directing its own employees; because of concerns this and
future councils will not allocate adequate resources to maintain and enhance
park properties; and because feedback received thus far has been negative
regarding the proposed change.
Raffin also emphasized that “If the Park Board is disbanded, there will be
no autonomous board to advocate on behalf of park needs.”
As an example she cited the Town Council’s recent request to approve an open
stormwater drain through the middle of Hawthorne Park cutting the property
directly in half. After the Park Board voiced concerns and questions, Raffin
noted, the project is being redesigned with underground lines “although we
are not sure if this proposed drainage plan is still in the best interest of
future development of the park.”
Wightman said the council has never communicated in writing or stated
specific examples of poor job or work performance by superintendent Miller.
The Park Board, not the council, annually evaluates the job he’s doing,
continued Wightman, and “we have received numerous compliments” for a job
well done by both Millers.