A week after the Anderson Parks and Recreation Department superintendent and board members laid off two employees and eliminated their jobs, concerned citizens attended a parks board meeting Tuesday and complained about the effects it could have on community activities.
Last week, the parks board voted to eliminate the jobs of Rodney Chamberlain, the recreation superintendent, and Tammy Doty-Davis, the landscape architect, later this summer.
Tuesday’s park board meeting drew more than two dozen members of the public, who often grumbled and shouted out complaints from their seats. Several stood at the podium and voiced their displeasure, leading to a 25-minute debate with park board president Nancy Anderson.
The Rev. Anthony Harris told the board that there are not enough activities for the city’s youth, and the outlook is worse with Chamberlain’s upcoming departure.
“We need to make sure children are safe and have someone watching over them,” he said, adding that youth need organized activities where they can learn skills.
Anderson said that tough financial times and budget cuts required by the mayor mean that goals have to be re-prioritized.
“We can’t be a parks and recreation department. We have to focus on just parks,” she said, as several people in the crowd grumbled audibly.
Chamberlain, who also serves as an Anderson city councilman, has been at the parks department for 20 years and will be employed until Aug. 18. Doty-Davis has worked there for 18 years. Her last day of work, originally, was set for July 21.
On Tuesday, the board voted to extend Doty-Davis’ employment until Aug. 11 so she can continue supervising three Ball State landscape architecture students who are interning at the department.
The job eliminations were decided as a way to restructure the department, save money and repurpose some of those funds to hire maintenance workers, said superintendent Doug Zook. When Chamberlain and Doty-Davis each stood up to give the board an update on their programs and projects, they took advantage of that time to talk about their layoffs.
Doty-Davis told the board that during her years at the parks department she has secured more than $1.2 million in grants, she designs and assesses the safety of playgrounds, and even helps outdoors, like when she planted tree seedlings on Tuesday, she said.
Chamberlain said he has devoted 20 years of his life to the parks department and asked the board to reconsider their decision to eliminate his job.
“Were you not happy with the job I’ve done for 20 years?” Chamberlain asked.
Both Anderson and board member Dick Bevelhimer said that Chamberlain has done a great job, and that his job performance was not the reason for the termination.
“We need programs in the community for the kids,” said Lindsay Brown, president of the Urban League of Madison County. “Or, they could end up in the building across the street (the jail). We need to worry about more than just the parks.”
Anderson pointed out that not one family signed up for the spring break camp, and only 60 kids are in the summer camp.
Someone in the crowd shouted out that they can’t afford the camps.
Anderson later explained that budget cuts have caused the department to reduce its programming over the years, and it offers only fee-based activities. It cannot afford to offer free programs.
But Anderson told the public that the parks department wants to increase its programs and activities in the community by creating a task force with churches, non-profits, government entities, community leaders and more to come up with a plan and a private-public partnership.
Anderson would like to create the group within two weeks and get started on brainstorming to have recreational activities available in the fall.
After dealing with this new endeavor, the parks department will see further changes later this year. Anderson said that two other positions will be eliminated and replaced with two other lower-paying jobs.
The business administrator will become an administrative assistant. And a maintenance position will see its job description and duties change.
Those changes will be voted on during a December meeting and will take effect in January, Anderson said.
Find Melanie D. Hayes on Facebook and @MelanieDHayes on Twitter or call 648-4250.