The Herald Bulletin
---- — By most accounts, former Elwood Parks Superintendent Dan Nance had a fond affection for his job of 13 years. Most in that position would have to love parks since the superintendent lives on site at Callaway Park.
Nance would often fix park equipment or perform various projects by himself in order to save contractor fees. Friends even held an appreciation day for him in April 2012.
But in August 2012, Nance was suspended from his job for allegedly misusing parks funds. In essence, funds from such groups as the Elwood Chamber of Commerce and Optimist Club were made payable to Nance for park projects. However, the city clerk-treasurer had no record of the donations. Nance maintained he paid vendors himself using the funds. Nance wound up with criminal charges over handling of the funds.
Arnold offered Nance a chance to return to his job if he gave back the funds and issued a public apology. Nance refused and was terminated in September 2012.
At the time, Nance called the job suspension a “witch hunt” by Mayor Ron Arnold.
Last week, jurors seemed to agree with Nance’s assessment. It took a Madison Circuit Court jury less than 30 minutes to find Nance not guilty.
Most of the trial centered around an interesting issue: were the checks given to Nance public funds or private money? Either way, it seems, the money went into parks projects, in particular, $2,000 in checks given each of five years for post-Glass Festival cleanup of Callaway Park. If the checks were not totally used up, Nance put the remainder into park needs.
Certainly, funds coming into city coffers must be documented and recorded — mostly to avoid such dilemmas as what faced Nance. As parks superintendent, he should have known that failure to record and trace exact amounts would come back to haunt him.
But the jury discerned that Nance was the city’s biggest parks supporter. Residents knew it too; at least 30 in the courtroom applauded when the verdict came through.
Nance filed a tort claim against Arnold, claiming Nance’s reputation and character was damaged. He requested $300,000 in compensation for what he calls a “politically motivated and retaliatory suspension and firing” by Arnold.
Whether the political allegations are true or not, this was likely a scenario that could have been avoided if a city parks superintendent had properly documented funds, and if a city administration had talked honestly to a dedicated employee.
In summary A courtroom experience involving the former Elwood parks superintendent could have been avoided if two sides had talked.