Park board, mayor authority discussedMarch 24, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
HUNTINGBURG — Changes in the city’s park department led to a lengthy discussion about understanding the duties of the Huntingburg Park Board at the end of the Huntingburg Common Council’s meeting Tuesday evening.
Former park director Larry Altstadt was terminated from the department earlier this month. Officials would not say the reason for the termination, since personnel matters are not made public.
Mayor Steve Schwinghamer has selected Dale Payne to work as acting director of the department, but the park board has not yet approved that selection.
Huntingburg Councilman Jeff Bounds suggested Tuesday that the council hire independent legal counsel. That attorney would research and explain the duties and responsibilities of a park board and the administrative duties of a mayor as it pertains to the park department, he explained.
“We’re trying to educate ourselves,” he said. “I think it would be healthy for the park board members, park employees the council members, if there was confirmation of what (City Attorney) Phil (Schneider) is saying. I hope that is outcome.
“I would feel better if I heard it twice with the same message,” Bounds said.
Schneider said he has given council members the statute relating to the park department as well as Schneider’s explanation of duties based on statute. In that, Schneider explained the statutory basis for his opinion that the park director is the statutory superintendent.
“He is the individual who is appointed by the mayor,” Schneider said. “He is the only individual approved, after being appointed by the mayor, by the park board. That is the definition of a superintendent in the statutes.” Other park department employees are hired by the park board, he said
Both Schneider and Schwinghamer advised the council to not incur the extra expense of hiring outside counsel. Schneider explained that the council’s duties are in the legislative and fiscal budgeting areas. “The council, in its capacity as a legislative function or a fiscal function, may hire separate counsel for those purposes only,” he said.
The executive, which is the mayor, hires the city attorney, who provides legal counsel to all city boards and commissions. Those boards do not hire legal counsel without the consent of the city attorney, Schneider said. “The reason for that is because the boards would be getting conflicting and confusing opinions,” he said, “and administration of the city would become chaotic.”
“What it appears to me what we’re doing here is that we’re trying to sidestep the prohibition from other boards and commissions to hire private counsel or outside counsel, by letting the council do it,” Schneider said. “I think that is violating the separation of the executive from the legislative.”
Councilman Steve McPherron said the council is not unhappy with Schneider’s work on the matter, but having counsel that does not represent the mayor or the council would be beneficial.
“I think there is some confusion what the governmental structure is and how it’s set up,” he said. “That’s all we want to know, how is it supposed to flow.”
McPherron said he is looking for a detailed explanation of the duties of park board members, the mayor and of the park director.
Schneider said that no park board member has asked him directly to explain the breakdown of duties or the the difference between a director and superintendent. But he would be glad to sit down with them and with any council member to explain that, he said.
“You’ve all got the statutory basis of my opinion,” Schneider said. “It’s there. I gave it to you.”
Councilman Glenn Kissling suggested that Schneider present that explanation of duties within the park board and park department, to which the council agreed.
“Nobody knows who has the authority to to what,” Kissling said. “What we’re asking for is direction and information on who can do what and what they can do.”
The council also:
• Agreed to move forward with an agreement to compensation and the exchange of property with the Southwest Dubois School Board in reference to land the city owns at U.S. 231 and Sunset Drive, in front of the Southridge school building. The details of the agreement will be made known after the needed resolution has been approved and documents have been signed.
• Approved the unified development ordinance, which reorganizes the city’s multiple zoning and development standards ordinances into one unified and easier-to-use ordinance.
• Decided to keep the city’s system of net metering in place for at least another year. Net metering allows customers to offset their electrical usage if they generate renewable energy using solar panels. The city currently has two customers utilizing the process. Council members said they want net metering to be promoted more to give other customers a chance to utilize it.
• Heard from Schwinghamer that Mayor’s Youth Council member Max Rasche will be the liaison between the common council and youth council; Max will be in attendance at common council meetings, Schwinghamer said.
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