Common council agrees with Fetters, sends park board packing on 5-1 vote

Impassioned pleas from two members of the community weren't enough to save the Huntington Park Board.

Members of the Huntington Common Council, without discussion, voted 5-1 during an early-morning meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, to dissolve the board - an action Mayor Brooks Fetters says will streamline government and save money.

Councilman Jim Long voted against the changes in the parks department, and Councilman Charles Chapman was absent.

The council's action means that the Huntington Parks and Recreation Department will come directly under the supervision of the city's board of public works and safety, which also oversees all other city departments.
In addition, the parks department will no longer have a separate superintendent. Instead, Huntington Street Superintendent Bob Caley will be responsible for the parks department in addition to the street department.

Former parks department Superintendent Denise Bard has resigned from that position but will remain with the department as a machine operator.

Marvin McNew, who was appointed to the park board early this year, told council members be was puzzled by Fetters' "change of heart." McNew said he believed, until Fetters proposed doing away with the board, that the mayor was pleased with the board's work. He also told council that he's received letters and e-mails from community members in support of keeping the park board intact.

Community member Tom Stahl told council members he couldn't see any reason for making the change, citing a reduction in the parks department's budget and "excellent cooperation" between the parks and street departments in the past.

During a subsequent discussion of the city's 2013 budget, Clerk-Treasurer Christi Scher explained that no changes can be made to the parks' funding for 2013 because the budget proposal has already been advertised. Caley will take over responsibility for the parks department's budget this year, she said, and adjustments will be made in the 2014 budget.

During the budget discussion, council members voted 6-0 to deny themselves raises for 2013. Several attempts by Councilman Greg Davis to deny raises to other elected officials and city employees failed.

Davis also made a couple of other proposals - to cross-train firefighters and police officers, an idea council plans to discuss at a future meeting; and to dispense with the city ordinance officer's position, a possibility that was voted down.

Davis said that having all new hires trained as both police officers and firefighters would give "more bang for your buck," allow for quicker response times and result in a higher quality work force.

"I believe it would be a much more efficient use of our taxpayer dollars," Davis said.

The city's ordinance officer is responsible for enforcing ordinances against high grass, weeds and trash-littered properties. Davis spoke in favor of eliminating that position and adding another police officer, then making all police officers responsible for nuisance code enforcement.

Fetters said he has made nuisance code enforcement a top priority, and that keeping up with violators required "a lot of paperwork."

"I'm comfortable with the way it's set up," Fetters said.

Councilmen Jack Slusser, Joe Blomeke, Paul Pike and Wayne Powell voted against Davis's proposal, sending it to defeat.

In other business:

• Bryn Keplinger, assistant director of the Huntington Countywide Department of Community Development, presented several possibilities for redrawing lines for city council districts.

Districts must be redrawn so that each district has roughly the same number of residents.

Council members will study Keplinger's proposals and discuss changes at their Oct. 9 meeting.

• Council approved two Main Street Huntington grants.
Rex Frederick received a $412.50 grant to pay for half the cost of painting and caulking windows at 514 N. Jefferson St. and 52 N. Jefferson St.

A grant of $5,773.44 will pay half the cost of facade improvements to the "opera house" building on East Market Street at Warren Street.

The building is actually six separate properties with four separate owners. Three of the owners - Brenda Rosen, Larry and Kathy Zahm and Rich Najuch - are working together on the project. The fourth owner, Najuch said, is an absentee landlord. The other three are trying to locate that person and include him in the project, Najuch said.