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Recreation director job challenged

July 03, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Parks and Recreation Director Fred Waybrant is under fire and facing the threat of being fired.

"For years, people have been after me for no reason," said Waybrant during the July 1 township board meeting. "I feel like I'm being attacked."

His feelings may well be justified given comments by board members at both the most recent board meeting, as well as a June 26 strategic planning workshop which focused on the recreation director and department, and during which Treasurer Terri Darnall said to Waybrant, "People are ticked to say it mildly. I'm ready to recommend the board gets rid of your job in light of all these complaints."

During the June 26 meeting, Waybrant gave a recreation report which he believes responded to numerous criticisms regarding the department, including late delivery of uniforms, poor communication, poor website, lack of organization, lack of guidance for volunteers, overlapping of baseball and soccer seasons, poor field conditions/maintenance, poor equipment, and much more.

In the report, he notes steps that have been taken to effect positive change, including updating of the recreation website, encouragement of residents to become members of, establishment of e-mail groups for coaches and improved communications with the coaches including survey forms, schedules and website links.

He also listed futures plans for improvement, including purchasing new program scheduling software, online registration, opening the office on Fridays "if the budget can support it," and "looking into possible new sponsorships and ways to generate funding."

The report is rounded out with job descriptions for committee members of the baseball/softball and soccer programs, recreation program participation numbers from 2008-2012 (the numbers have remained fairly steady, ranging between 1116-1341 overall), a finance worksheet covering 2008-2013 for the department, and task time sheets for the first week in June, detailing Waybrant's time spent in meetings, taking phone calls, on the computer, helping at the counter, and on break.

Following Waybrant's presentation on his report at the June 26 meeting, however, it was clear by responses from board members that their questions were not answered.

"What does 'we're working on it,' actually mean?" asked Trustee Ron Lapp. "I've never received one e-mail regarding recreation... I'm tired of listening to excuses from the recreation director."

"I've been asking for a financial report from the recreation department for two years," said Trustee Dana DePalma. "I shouldn't be waiting that long... If we're providing this service to the residents, we need to provide the best possible service."

Following these comments and the one from Darnall on "getting rid of" Waybrant's job, the parks and recreation director defended himself by saying that in 14 years in the position, he'd made decisions both good and bad, but had been dedicated and put in a lot of hours. He pointed out that in the past, he had a staff that allowed him to raise donations to build the community park at Hadley Road, established in 2006 through donations, grants, and in-kind services, much of which is attributable to his efforts.

"Sometimes I put the cart before the horse, but I'm a go-getter," Waybrant said.

During the July 1 board meeting, Roger Ingles, a local contractor who donated more than $100,000 in in-kind services to help build the township park, came to the defense of Waybrant.

"I can't stand to see someone so hardworking get this kind of abuse," Ingles said. "I am astonished. If you have any personal opinions in this, are an ex-employee, live next to the Skate Park, if your wife is an ex-employee... abstain. I can't stand to see the township pay for a lawsuit for a wrongful discharge."

Ingles was referring to the connections several board members have to Waybrant, and grudges the parks and recreation director believes are held against him. While this township board was elected last fall, several current members have a history with Waybrant that dates back several years. Trustee Ron Lapp was the township supervisor from 2000 until 2008, when he was defeated in the primary election by current Supervisor Kathy Thurman. Diane Lapp was hired for a full-time programmer position in the recreation department during Ron Lapp's tenure as supervisor, before she became his wife. She lost her programmer job in 2011 when the position was eliminated. Last year, now Clerk Candee Allen lost her position as full-time recreation administrative assistant, also due to budget cuts. She had worked in the department for more than 20 years. Allen declined to comment on Waybrant.

"I think they have personal agendas against me," said Waybrant. "They say they don't, but they do. I have documents to prove it... Nepotism in the office and a lot of internal office things that went on. My two staff members didn't like each other. If I tried to modify or fix, it didn't matter. It's personal and there are a lot of people that believe that."

On Monday, former treasurer Terry Beltramo joined the fray, saying Waybrant was caught stealing gas last summer. Waybrant said he was grading the fields at Sherman Park last summer and ran out of gas. He went and got a gallon of gas for the grader using his own gas can. A few ounces of gas were left in his gas can and because he said he didn't want to spill it in his car, he put it into his gas tank. He denies deliberately stealing gas and said he was written up and paid the township for a gallon of gasoline.

Township residents and parents of recreation participants at the July 1 meeting asked for action from the board.

"Good communication and schedules out ahead of time are things that can be improved with leadership," said a father at the meeting. "I saw plans for the park— it's a great plan.I want the board to think about growth, but also operational aspects. Talk to coaches, parents."

Waybrant said he has had 14 years of above average performance reviews. Now, he is about to have another "review."

Darnall made a motion at the July 1 meeting to set a hearing regarding a review of the parks and recreation director by the board. Discussion ensued, including Thurman noting she and Darnall had met with a labor attorney and discussed the differences between "at-will" and "just-cause" employees. The township, Thurman added, has at-will employees, "but it may behoove us to treat them as just-cause."

"Why are we doing this?" asked Trustee Bill DeWitt. "I don't want to go in attack mode on someone. It's not constructive. I think the citizens' issues should first be addressed in the parks and recreation committee."

"This is for the review of reports, comments, inconsistencies and to see how we could improve the department," said Darnall. "I think we need to come up with something concrete, not some nefarious number. The board needs to be aware of complaints, not just the supervisor's office."

The township board will meet at 6 p.m., July 22, at a location to be determined, for a recreation director "review." The motion was approved 5-2, with Thurman and DeWitt voting no.

"I want to fix issues and support parks and rec," said DeWitt. "I stand on principles and I'm not out to fire anyone. I don't take that lightly. It's a pretty drastic step— let's fix the issues first, in a public forum. We owe it to everybody."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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