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Columbus Parks Near Deal With Mayor Over Director’s Demotion

columbus parks board

Photo: Bill Shaw

The Columbus Parks Board meets for a regularly scheduled meeting on May 15, 2014.

Some members of the Columbus parks department say they are close to an resolution with the mayor after she demoted the parks director last December. Others are still looking for answers.

Mayor Kristen Brown did not show up to the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department’s public meeting today as previously scheduled.

Instead, Board President Brian Russell read a prepared statement: “I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction and that we are able to reach a proposed resolution in the very near future. This has all been done in an attempt to work together in collaborative fashion, in hopes of moving forward.”

Russell and parks board member Nancy Brown met with the mayor earlier this week to discuss how and why the mayor demoted their director. The mayor originally said then-parks director Ben Wagner mishandled the budget and improperly used city credit cards.

“When we left the meeting we felt like all the issues had been addressed,” Brown says. “Because we are so close to reaching a collaborative effort, we wanted to get that done and then we can all come together and get this past and taken care of and we can go ahead and run our great parks department.”

Columbus city council member Dascal Bunch, the city council’s liaison to the parks board, says he was “shocked” at how the meeting went. Dozens of people were in attendance, but no public comment period was provided.

“The way it was advertised, I think the people thought the mayor was gonna come out and say her side and then the parks’ side,” Bunch says. “They met beforehand and resolved, and I think that’s a good thing, but I think there were some people upset.”

Park Board Vice President Mary Tucker is surprised by the results of today’s meeting and the meeting with the mayor earlier in the week, but welcomes the progress.

“We as a community want this to end,” Tucker says. “We don’t want to drag it on. As I was discussing with my peers, we want this parks department to function like it used to be. ”

The meeting’s agenda had also planned a discussion on re-voting the Donner Park Aquatic Center, but that topic was not addressed.

The mayor was not available for comment.

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