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 Park Board's Mower Purchase OK After All

March 26, 2008 - Questions raised at last week's Knightstown Town Council meeting about the local park board's purchase of a new mower have been answered in the park board's favor.

At their March 12 meeting, members the Knightstown Dept. of Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously to buy a Bush Hog mower with a 61-inch cutting deck for $7,400. Park board members said the purchase would allow the them to avoid paying town employees $5,000 each year to mow the Sunset Park grounds.

The park board had expected to take delivery of the mower on March 20. However, the Knightstown Town Council put those plans temporarily on hold last week to give their attorney time to research the park board's purchasing authority.

Questions about the purchase were first raised at the council’s March 19 meeting by Council President Valerie Trump. After Bruce Brown, the park board's vice president, confirmed that a mower had been purchased, Trump said, "Unless I'm mistaken, purchases come before the town council, right? And that includes the park board."

"They never have before," Brown replied. He went on to explain that the park board had obtained three mower quotes at the request of the council's park board liaison, Bob Weber.

Terry Guerin, the council's vice president, told Brown the council had been considering having cemetery workers mow the park grounds as a money-saving measure. "So," he said, "buying a mower is kind of contrary with the sense of direction the board was trying to take." Guerin also said he agreed with Trump that purchases like that should be OK'd by the council.

"It has never been done that way before," Brown repeated. While the park board had in the past advised the council that certain expenditures were going to be made, he said they were approved by the park board, not the council. "The town board has not said a word to the park board about mowing," he said, remarking that the council's park board liaison said nothing about cemetery workers mowing the park.

Brown told the council at last week's meeting that the park board expected to take delivery of the mower the following day. Trump asked him not to do that until the town's attorney researched the park board's authority to make purchases, saying the town needed "to make sure everything is done appropriately."

Guerin and Knightstown Clerk-Treasurer Judy Haines both confirmed on Tuesday morning that the town's attorney, David Copenhaver, concluded the park board did nothing wrong in making the purchase. The town provided The Banner with a copy of Copenhaver's six-page legal memo addressing the issue, even though it was an attorney-client communication that, at the town's discretion, could have been withheld.

In his memo, Copenhaver said he believed the park board "has authority to engage in contracts for the purchase of real property," like the mower. He also said he believed that the park board had met all statutory obligations regarding competitive bidding and purchasing, and that the purchase had been valid.

Although Copenhaver concluded the park board had acted appropriately with respect to the purchase, Guerin told The Banner there are still a couple of unresolved issues. He said there's a budgetary issue regarding whether the park had enough money appropriated for the $7,400 purchase, as well as safety and liability issues surrounding who will operate the mower.

"The budgetary issues are something the council alone needs to look at," Guerin said, "but the liability issues … are something the council and its attorney will look at."


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