PRINCETON — Newly appointed Princeton Parks and Recreation chief Brent Denbo's first meeting Thursday with the board responsible for defining his duties was full of questions about what he's doing and what can be accomplished within the city's recreation facilities.
Denbo, who resigned his city council seat to take the post vacated by the resignation of former parks chief Waylon Schenk, said he wants to increase activities at South Side Park, improve equipment at Lincoln Park and bring a wider variety of activities to Lafayette Park and the Princeton Aquatic Center.
Three weeks into the job, he said he wants to improve the lighting at South Side Park to bring more softball/baseball league play and make use of that park's unused tennis courts to introduce pickleball activities. "South Side Park has amazing potential," he told the board, noting it's a good spot for Frisbee golf.
He said he'd love to see a dog park for the city, as well.
Denbo said Lafayette Park is a prime spot for basketball tournaments, wiffleball, horse shoes, cornhole and sand volleyball leagues.
He's also discussed barbecue festivals at Lincoln Park and other activities to bring out a wider group of people to use the city facilities.
Denbo noted that a $10,000 grant Schenk had applied for is earmarked for new equipment at Lincoln Park. Parks board member Tracey Wilkerson said the improvements are needed, noting that he doubts the equipment at Lincoln or South Side Park would meet code.
Music in the park and beer gardens haven't really been successful, he told the parks board, but he said he wants to bring a mixture of activities — maybe a blues festival and other events.
Parks Board President Jamie McClure said the city jointly hosting a back to school "backpack bash" at Lafayette park July 29, providing donated free school supplies to children. Wilkerson said he's working on plans for a barbecue cook-off at Lincoln Park, perhaps in September.
All those plans and details were touched on when Princeton City Councilman Greg Wright asked the question, "What's the plan?" at the two-hour session that started on a mildly more contentious note, with Princeton Mayor Brad Schmitt, McClure, City Attorney Jason Spindler and Denbo weighing in on how Denbo's appointment was ratified by the parks board June 24 in McClure's absence, and an ensuing July 3 parks board meeting that Denbo and Schmitt said they weren't notified of.
McClure called Thursday night's special meeting to review Denbo's qualifications and discuss his job duties and get update on parks projects/activities.
McClure maintained that she had notified the city of the July 3 meeting, but Schmitt said the city was unaware of the change in date from the July 10 regular session. McClure questioned how the June 25 special session was called, citing Indiana Code that requires meetings be called by either the parks board president or two members of the board.
Schmitt said the June 24 special meeting was necessary to have Denbo on the job when Schenk's notice of his last day at work came earlier than anticipated. "I had a job to do and a city to run and a position to fill," he said.
McClure said later in the meeting that her main concerns were "about the process and legality," and that she still believed the late June meeting to be illegal. But Spindler offered his legal opinion that Denbo has been approved by the parks board and the June 24 meeting was valid. "You can say it's illegal all day long but I'm the head of the (city) legal department," he told her.
Parks board members asked Denbo about his activities during his first three weeks, and he told them he's been working 9-10 hour days, and planning to get pool certification training in September. He provided parks board members with a resume detailing his professional experience in business and volunteer work in sports leagues.
McClure asked Denbo about how his business experience would translate into grant writing needs in the parks position, and asked about his plans to achieve certification. Wilkerson told Denbo that he voted for his appointment and wants to see the passion he expressed for the position demonstrated. McClure and Wilkerson both told Denbo that their questions are based on questions that have been raised to them by citizens.
Parks board member Margaret Powers said she's witnessed Denbo's performance. "Brent has gone above what he's supposed to do," she said, noting that he met with lifeguards at the pool and worked on areas of improvement.
McClure asked about rumors of Denbo moving his office from Lafayette Park to the Princeton Municipal Building, which would put him out of touch when he might be needed, but Denbo said he's at the parks regularly. He said he has worked at the municipal building for invoices and payroll and other matters where those resources are more conveniently located.
McClure and parks board members said they want to see bigger and better activities at the facilities — not only sports, but also activities that attract senior citizens and families. She said she wants the parks board to be more involved in decisions about parks equipment, and the department budget, as well.
Councilman Jan Ballard told the parks board that he's glad the parks board is asking questions, and reassured Denbo, "No one on the council is against you — or the parks board. They just want to make sure it (his appointment) is legal."
Princeton Board of Public Works and Safety member Karen McClure said she was surprised that Denbo was appointed because the mayor told her he was thinking about not replacing the position. Former board member Bruce Fisher said there seemed to be a lack of communication.
"There's more to this position than any of you know..." Schmitt replied.
He complimented Schenk's work and record-keeping skilled, and said Denbo also brings people management skills. "I never thought we would have an opportunity to get Brent Denbo...he's taking a pay cut to do this job."