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December 18, 2012

An era comes to an end in Floyd County

Parks board holds final meeting ahead of Jan. 1 split

NEW ALBANY — At just past 5 p.m., Derrick Booker and Sharon Gardner motioned and seconded to accept the pre-determined fate of the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Board.

The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on NA-FC Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers. He pointed out it was Booker and Gardner who helped put together the joint department almost 20 years ago.

And as one of the final actions of the body on Tuesday, the two long-time board members had to recognize the joint city and county resolution to end the merged department.

“It’s just bittersweet,” Jeffers said.

As the city and county move toward launching autonomous parks departments on Jan. 1, new bodies will be formed to oversee the new departments. But for the eight volunteer NA-FC Parks board members, Tuesday’s meeting at the Southern Indiana Sports Center will likely be their last together in an official capacity.

I’m “hopeful and sad at the same time,” said board chairman Scott Klink.

The New Albany City Council finalized in November Mayor Jeff Gahan’s plan to form a separate municipal parks department. Though the two entities had partnered to run the department since 1994, the funding shortfalls of the county toward the operation were too much for Gahan to look past.

He said the county hadn’t shown a firm financial commitment to the department  — as the city had paid about $4 million more toward the operation over the last decade — and that it was time for New Albany to move forward with its own parks system.

The parks board approved a distribution of equipment list, the city and county’s joint resolution to abolish the department and established a parks and recreation advisory board to oversee charitable contributions that are being administered by the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.

Though an era is coming to an end, Klink said forming the advisory board is an important move because it will allow the solicitation of private donations without political influence.

Irv Stumler, Letty Walter, Justin Endres and current parks board members Tom Millea and Klink were selected for the advisory body, with Walter to serve as the chair.

As agreed upon by the city and county, remaining private donations will be transferred to the account, and future contributions will also be administered through the Community Foundation only for parks and recreation use.

The board also voted to name the courts at the Southern Indiana Sports Center after Kevin Hammersmith. A long-time parks board member, Hammersmith was killed last year as the result of a wreck on Ind. 111.

An avid supporter of swimming, board members said they hope that if an aquatic center is built at Sam Peden Community Park, that it will be named after Hammersmith.

Most of the actions taken regarding the divide Tuesday were formalities, but board members and parks employees talked about their experiences and shared their gratitude and admiration for each other.

December marked Jeffers’ 60th month on the job, and he’s likely to become the county parks superintendent beginning in January, as Kathy Wilkerson has agreed to serve as interim director of the New Albany department.

Jeffers recalled meeting with local officials during his initial interview, the long hours the employees put in over the past five years, and the dedication of the parks board.

He said there isn’t a group “that could have done a better, more efficient job” with the parks department.

“I appreciate all your help and guidance,” Jeffers told the board. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

From the parks employees to his fellow board members, Klink also expressed his gratitude to those he said have dedicated an abundance of time and effort to bettering the recreational system.

“I know we fought the good fight — we did everything we could for this community,” Klink said.

Some of the parks employees are joining the county, some have taken jobs with the city. There will be dozens of decisions to be made come January, and the future of the local parks’ facilities will likely be dictated by those choices.

Though not by their choice, the current parks board won’t be voting on those matters. At 5:39 p.m., as darkness set in around the Southern Indiana Sports Center and teenage girls practiced volleyball in the gymnasium, Klink hammered his gavel, and the board adjourned.

 

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