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Shaffer Park decision lacked transparency

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Rory Ryan

By Rory Ryan
The Highland County Press

Just two weeks ago, Bruce Davis stopped by my office to drop off an invoice for The Highland County Press' outfield fence signage at Richard Shaffer Park. For the last 15 years, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper has purchased signage to help support the local baseball and softball programs.

Bruce has been the park's operations manager for 15 years for a very nominal salary. By all indications, he has succeeded the longtime management of the park's namesake, Dick Shaffer, very well.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha informed Bruce that his services were no longer needed, and the city has hired a new parks director.

After initially declining to comment on our story about Bruce's termination, the city of Hillsboro issued the following statement on Feb. 6: “In 2023, the City of Hillsboro established its Parks and Recreation department and appointed a parks director in November. The newly appointed parks director's primary responsibility includes the supervision and daily management of the city's parks. The city owns Shaffer Park and aims to play a more active role in its operations starting in 2024. The operations for the 2024 season will continue as they have in previous years, with plans to evaluate and potentially implement changes after the season concludes. Caleb Gregory, who has been named the parks director, will oversee the management of Shaffer Park. With six years of experience as the director of league operations at Cincinnati Sports Leagues, Gregory brings a wealth of knowledge in league management to his new role. An annual meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. to discuss the plans for the upcoming season.”

The city did not include the new parks director's salary. City Auditor Dawson Barreras told The Highland County Press that Gregory's starting salary is $58,000 a year.

The city also did not include that the new parks director is the brother-in-law of the city's safety and service director.

Granted, the city is under no obligation to volunteer information related to the parks director's salary or his relationship with his new boss. However, for the all-important sake of transparency when dealing with public funds and decisions related thereto, this information should have been forthcoming.

For some history on Shaffer Park, let's digress for a moment. Just three years ago, Shaffer Park marked its 60th anniversary at its current location on North High Street in Hillsboro. 

As previously reported by Sue Boatman and Lori Tuttle in The Highland County Press, in 1954 a handful of members of the Hillsboro community decided to start a Little League Baseball program. The Hillsboro Recreation Commission was formed to manage the ballpark. Its roots are traced to the Highland County Fairgrounds. 

Five Little League teams, and eventually, three Babe Ruth teams were organized and played their first games at the fairgrounds. When the local Little League was organized, Hillsboro High School baseball, a fast-pitch softball league and an independent league all played on a single diamond on the grounds.

Some of Hillsboro's first coaches and organizers included Dick Shaffer, Jake Wagoner, Bob Hamm, Frank "Squeak" Collins, Charles Kellis, George Boone, Norman DeHass, Jim Carey, Bill Mallory and Dan Reed. In 1961, the teams made the move to what is now Shaffer Park when the Highland County Chamber of Commerce (not the city of Hillsboro) bought the land on North High Street for the leagues. This purchase included only the east side of the park, where the A League, Pony League and girls' diamonds now exist. 

Meanwhile, volunteer efforts were underway. People who had already put in eight-hour days at their respective jobs installed poles and lights every evening. Local electricians, carpenters, businessmen and utility companies contributed to the park's development. 

The community's efforts never ceased, even through a huge flood in 1965 caused by seven inches of rain in two hours wiped out much of the volunteers' hard work, but construction resumed. 

The city of Hillsboro purchased the west side of the park in 1966, which allowed a Babe Ruth and C League diamond to be built. The girls' leagues were formed in the early 1970s and shared the boys' Pony League diamond. 

In 1992, after the adult softball association moved to Liberty Park, construction began on the girls' softball complex. Alice Cassner was a special benefactor, and in 1993, the grand opening of Cassner Field was held. Two more softball diamonds were added the next year.

In 1988, the park was named after Richard “Dick” Shaffer, who donated many hours and much hard work to make the park one of the best in southern Ohio. 

In 2008, a major building project was undertaken by then-park director Bruce Davis. New bathrooms and a new concession stand were constructed on the third-base side of the Raymond R. Stout Post 129 Field, and an office, umpires' room and press box were built on the first-base side. Most of the money and work on these projects was donated by the local community and businesses. 

In 2011, the original two diamonds were named after Dan W. Reed and Frank “Squeak” Collins, who, along with Shaffer, were the first appointed park commissioners by the city of Hillsboro.

The Hillsboro Little League program, which started with eight teams, has impressively grown to include approximately 50 teams. The park now has four baseball diamonds and three softball diamonds and is home to the Post 129 American Legion Baseball team. 

Through the years, countless local businesses and volunteers have stepped up to assist and support Shaffer Park. I hope the city's new vision for the park keeps this in mind.

One thing, though, is becoming clear: Many of those volunteers and businesses are not pleased with the city's lack of transparency. To the best of my knowledge, this issue has not been discussed in open session with members of Hillsboro City Council. 

The mayor never formally announced Gregory's hiring at a council meeting. Why not? For a new $58,000 city position, shouldn't city council – and the city's residents and taxpayers – be informed?

Moreover, the mayor did not sit down and request a meeting with Hillsboro Recreation Commission members, Bruce Davis, Sue Boatman and Tim Davis. Why not? At the very least, they all deserved that.

Again, I am not suggesting anything egregious in the city administration's authority to make such a decision, but I am questioning the city's thought process and its stewardship of taxpayers' dollars.

For more than six decades, Shaffer Park has served tens of thousands of local youths with minimal expense. Yes, the new parks director will likely have a few other demands on his time in addition to Shaffer Park. Will the added cost to city taxpayers be worth it, and will taxpayers notice any significant improvements in five years?

Time will tell.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.

Comment

David Anthony Mayer (not verified)

11 February 2024

Can we get the job description? A list of any other applicants? What will the duties be in the winter months off season? Do not tell me it will be a fulltime job scheduling and planning for the next season. Do not need time to tell. City will lose volunteers, donations, and ad revenue from the signs. The current model was not broken. So why try to fix it?

Mario Angellio (not verified)

13 February 2024

"The city also did not include that the new parks director is the brother-in-law of the city's safety and service director."

Must be Sleepy Joe disciples. We do whatever we want and we don't care about ethics, morality, and/or legality. Their motto... "whatcha gonna do!"

John D Gillespie (not verified)

27 February 2024

Where can I turn in a resume to be the assistant to this newly "hired" person. Sounds like a great gig to have. I would only ask for $45000 in salary. Or is this just for relatives?

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