By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Mayor Jeff Gahan met with New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department employees Friday to “reassure them that we are working to make this a smooth transition” in regards to the formation of a separate city recreation system.
On Monday, he released more details about what will occur if New Albany starts its own parks department Jan. 1.
Last week, the New Albany City Council took the initial steps toward abolishing its 18-year agreement with the county to operate a joint parks department. The council approved a resolution citing its intentions to launch a city parks department. Also Thursday, the council OK’d on first and second readings an ordinance to rescind the joint city-county venture.
The final reading on the ordinance will likely come during the council’s Nov. 5 meeting. Gahan was criticized by parks officials and dissenting council members over the move, as they said he had failed to present publicly a transition plan for the split.
Additionally, officials — including parks board chairman Scott Klink — said Gahan had neglected addressing the future of current employees.
In a news release, Gahan didn’t make any promises about 2013, which is when the city will start its autonomous parks department if the ordinance is “We expect that there will be no changes in their daily activities and responsibilities until after the first of the year,” Gahan stated in the news release.
But in a follow-up interview Monday, Gahan said day-to-day operations of the department won’t change “until well into the first quarter [of 2013],” as a cost analysis will be performed.
“The vision will shift to focus on capital improvement to the city parks,” Gahan said.
And Floyd County won’t be left completely on its own, he continued.
“We will offer the county the opportunity to participate in order to maintain county parks,” Gahan said, as he added their involvement will be “as much or as little as they like based on their willingness to fund the maintenance of their parks.”
NA-FC Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers said he wasn’t allowed to attend the meeting with employees, which was at the Southern Indiana Sports Center, and that he doesn’t know the reason why.
“I just think that’s how this whole thing came about — it’s all secretive,” Jeffers said Monday.
He and other parks officials have expressed disagreement with the proposal to split the system as well as the timing of the council votes. The measures were voted on during a special meeting Thursday that was advertised two days prior.
No one from the Gahan administration met with the parks board prior to the votes, and Jeffers said a transition plan still hasn’t been presented to the body or council.
Gahan has said his position on the joint agreement, which has seen the city pay about $4 million more toward the department than the county over an eight year period, has been clear for several months.
Gahan did meet with Jeffers personally last week.
“I asked him about the plan, and he said ‘we’re working on it,’” said Jeffers in reference to a meeting he had with Gahan on Friday.
Essentially, the council members that supported Gahan’s proposal backed the idea without seeing a plan as to how the parks department will operate beginning Jan. 1, Jeffers continued.
“That’s pretty scary to me,” he said. “I can guarantee you the parks board doesn’t do that.”
Parks officials said no new information in terms of what will transpire after Jan. 1 was shared with employees during Friday’s meeting.
Through Dec. 31, the department will be controlled by the parks board and employees remain dedicated to their tasks, Jeffers said.
“We’re still busting our tails every day at work,” he said. “Nothing has changed.”
Klink was quoted in the news release about Gahan’s meeting with parks employees.
“I think it’s a great first step, and I do very much appreciate the mayor taking time out of his busy day to meet with the employees and to help them feel better about the transition,” he said. “We look forward to continued communication, and I appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding.”
The parks board will have a special meeting this week to discuss the council’s action. Klink said Monday that parks attorney Greg Fifer has sent a letter to the city’s legal department requesting a copy of the transition plan with a request that it be answered by Oct. 31.
As to whether the parks board may file legal action to attempt to stop the split, Klink said “it’s been mentioned,” but declined to go into any specifics as the issue was discussed during an executive session.
As for Jeffers’ future, he said he hasn’t responded to the city or county as to whether he will serve as their parks superintendent if the divide ultimately happens. He said he will wait until after the third council vote on the split and next month’s county elections before making up his mind.
Ultimately, the parks belong to the public, and people deserve to know what will happen after Dec. 31 to their recreational system, Jeffers continued.
“We all work for the public, and sometimes that gets lost,” he said.