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Township parks & recreation director stays

July 24, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Fred Waybrant is taking a vacation, but it won't be a permanent one.

The township recreation director fielded questions from township board members, maintained his composure and kept his job during an employee review hearing July 22 at the library.

"In the first five minutes of the Q and A, I started to feel more comfortable, because even though the questions didn't pertain to all the organization and communication stuff, I had answers that were correct and truthful," said Waybrant. "I'm surprised I was questioned on things that went back to 2003. When all is said and done, I felt renewed and pretty fired up to start moving recreation toward a good future for the community."

Lack of organization and a failure to communicate well were two of the primary criticisms that have been leveled at Waybrant in recent months. He has also been under fire due to various complaints about scheduling, uniforms, equipment, and field conditions. During a June 26 workshop, the recreation director attempted to provide answers and solutions for problems in the department, but not all board members were satisfied. The board voted 5-2 to hold the employee review hearing.

At Monday's hearing, attended by about 15 residents, Supervisor Kathy Thurman read two letters she had received in support of Waybrant, including one from township resident Rebecca Roberts, and a second from former Clerk Jeannie McCreery in which she called the current board the most dysfunctional board she'd seen in 20 years and the criticism of Waybrant "a witch hunt or retribution for the elimination of two staff positions in recreation."

While all township offices have taken budget cuts in which a full-time position was eliminated in each, Waybrant's department was the hardest hit, with the elimination of both the full-time programmer position, and the full-time administrative assistant position.

Since January 2012, Waybrant has only had a part-time employee in his department. This past January, the employee resigned. A new part-time employee was hired, but quit after a month. He then hired and has been training another part-time employee, Kara Titus, who he said is working out well.

During the employee hearing, several residents spoke on behalf of Waybrant, noting how hard he has worked over the 14 years he has been recreation director, including former long-time Fire Chief Bob McArthur.

"I've seen every recreation director come and go," said McArthur. "Some did a good job, but I've never seen one get us this far. Fred is really good at getting people to help out… Fred is hard to keep up with, he's doing way too much…Any board that is going to deal with an employee needs to look at what they're doing and not doing. (Fred) has done extra work, representing this board."

During questioning by board members, Waybrant admitted he had made mistakes, but insisted he is a good leader and can still take recreation in the direction it needs to go.

"We would not have gotten the park built without you, but there are a number of other issues plaguing you that we need to come up with a reasonable action plan to address, or if we can't, I don't know how to go forward with the recreation department," said Trustee Ron Lapp. "I would love to see a park millage, but that's probably not going to happen with the economy."

Lapp added that the township needs to pursue grants for development of the park. Waybrant was active in pursuing those grants until the previous township board, due to budget reasons, instructed him to not seek any more grants that required matching funds.

Clerk Candee Allen suggested that the township may need to look at downsizing recreation programs until there is more funding and more staff for the recreation department.

"We need volunteers," said Waybrant. "You can never please everybody with scheduling."

The purchase of a new software program may help with scheduling of recreation programs and communication with parents and is something the board will be considering, said Thurman, as well as increasing the hours of the part-time recreation employee and opening the recreation office on Fridays again.

In his comments at the employee review meeting, Trustee Bill DeWitt noted that he didn't want to hold the hearing to begin with, but after the board had approved it, he researched Waybrant's personnel files and annual evaluations from the past almost decade and a half.

"'Innovative,' 'high energy,' 'true commitment,' 'works countless hours,'" read DeWitt from the previous evaluations, all with above average ratings. "I read these comments in the reviews and then I listen to all these complaints. We have a funding issue. Try to improve communication. I feel the good outweighs any of these complaints."

The board ultimately approved a motion, unanimously, to have Waybrant give a report at their Nov. 4 meeting, updating them on recreation and improvements.

Treasurer Terri Darnall, who had previously made remarks regarding firing Waybrant, said Tuesday, "The people get the government the people deserve. I would like to see recreation booming, growing. We do not have a plan in place for that that I am aware of. I guess we have to wait til November."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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