LIGONIER — Why can’t they find a qualified person? Why does the Ligonier Parks and Recreation Board have to be abolished? What’s the difference between a park board and a park authority?

These questions, among others, have been asked since the city announced its plan to abolish its park board and reorganize the department to incorporate a director and park authority compared to a superintendent and park board.

Ligonier officials have been discussing the appointment of a new superintendent for its parks department for a few months and claim they have not been able to find someone with the specific qualifications. It was stated that people have been interviewed with the required amount of education but would withdraw their applications the position because it did not pay enough.

KPC Media Group held a meeting with Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel and City Attorney Steve Clouse to find out more about the specifics of the situation. Here are their answers:

According to the Indiana Code, a superintendent has to be qualified by training or experience in the field of parks and recreation. Where does the definition of “training or experience” you’re using come from?

Clouse: We conferred with the Indiana State Park Association. They further explained to us what it means to have certifications. I don’t have that right in front of me, but essentially, you’re at a certain point where you have to have a lot of experience or already have a degree before you can even begin the certification process.

One idea originally was to find someone who can become certified because at the time it didn’t sound too arduous, but in fact, it is. So that was off the table. This realignment, and that’s really all it is, if the council passes it ... it really just gives everyone more flexibility to manage. It actually treats all of the departments in the city the same.

Is it not possible for Ligonier to come up with some kind of administrative position it can call a director and have that be the executive operator of the parks department?

Clouse: The statute does say that if you have a board of park and recreation, the mayor is allowed to appoint a superintendent. It’s very specific. It further defines what a superintendent is and what that qualifications are for that position. It is very specific that if you have the board that you appoint a superintendent. I agree that some of this might be semantics, but we’re going to follow the law and do it correctly. I think the end result is greater flexibility and more accountability back to the executive and to the council. I don’t see that anything will be lost in terms of the management and governments of the city parks.

If this change goes through, are there functional differences, things that the city can or cannot do under this different structure? Are their positives or negatives to either?

Clouse: We don’t see any negatives at all.

Fisel: No negatives. The only thing I see is positives. I think it needs to be said that in doing this process, it is not that anyone believes that there shouldn’t be some sort of person in that position that has the education. No one is against education in our city. When I contacted people with the (required) education, they were not interested once they found out the pay. A city our size doesn’t have the funds to pay what they deserve.

Alan Duncan had a forestry degree. He was certified. We paid him the same amount we paid our other department heads. He agreed to that. We were fortunate that he was willing to do that. If we paid Alan more, we would have to pay five other department heads more and we can’t afford to do that.

Clouse: One thing that we found in our research is that some cities deliberately ignore the law. In other words, they have a board of park and rec and they have a superintendent that is no more qualified than you or I. Now that’s not an option that I am going to advise the mayor to take, so we’re not doing it that way.

Does the city lose something if you reorganize and put this under the supervision of the Board of Works since there were other options like the city council or creating a recreation board that looks very much like the membership of the park board? Why was the Board of Works selected if you go this direction?

Clouse: Because it already exists, honestly. And if you are going to treat all of the other departments the same, they all go to the Board of Works. These people have done a great job on the (park) board. There are no hard feelings. I don’t think this will be a problem. Our Board of Works meetings range from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the nature of the day. It will also lend some consistency because you do have the Board of Works overseeing those other executive departments. So if you’re talking about spending and budgeting and capital plan, all of that will have a more consistent approach.

Fisel: I contacted all of the park board members and only couldn’t get a hold of one. They all seemed to understand what was happening. They realized what we were trying to do. I feel like we did our due diligence.

News Sun Editor Steve Garbacz contributed to this report.

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