Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Maybe I should leave well enough alone, but all isn’t well with the Hillsboro recreation program.

On a personal level, writing about the recent shake-up is difficult for several reasons.

For one, I served on the Hillsboro Recreation Commission for more than 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s, so my viewpoint isn’t unbiased.

Second, since I know former Hillsboro recreation director Lonnie Isaac, most members of the Hillsboro Recreation Commission, and some of the city officials, it’s an uncomfortable situation. I have no desire to cause additional hard feelings. But as someone once said, those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.

My concern is for the future of a program that’s very important to our community. It’s OK to have differing opinions and to express them.

Here are the facts as I know them. Isaac, a city employee, was dismissed as director of the recreation program. The Hillsboro Recreation Commission was not consulted about the termination. The HRC was notified, but not consulted, about the position possibly being downgraded from full- to part-time. The season for Hillsboro recreation is going into high gear.

They say the truth hurts, and the truth is that politics in Hillsboro isn’t markedly different from politics in Topeka or Washington, D.C.

There’s no place on Earth that’s free from power struggles, personality differences, egos and pride. The stakes may be lower in Hillsboro than in Washington, but the roots of the struggles remain the same.

We can agree that the dismissal of a recreation director and subsequent resignation of two respected citizens from the HRC isn’t usual fare. The termination of the director, in particular, came at an inopportune time, with the busiest season of the year getting under way for the recreation program.

The dismissal raises some obvious questions. Why was Isaac dismissed, and why now?

The reasons for dismissal may never become public. City officials are naturally reluctant to discuss personnel matters, and the person being dismissed doesn’t gain much by crying sour grapes.

The end of Isaac’s tenure as recreation director is unfortunate, because the community owes him a debt of gratitude for his work the past nearly five years.

Rec directors are like coaches in that they’re often hired to be fired. If you work long enough in a community, you’re going to do things that please some people and displease others.

From a public relations standpoint, the dismissal came at an awkward time. It’s ironic that Isaac was terminated at virtually the same time he received an award from a national softball association for running the most efficient tournament in the state last summer. The USSSA only gives one such award in the state each year.

It’s my understanding that the HRC was not involved in the decision to terminate the director. There were areas where the HRC may have wanted improvement, but they were not considering a change in job status.

The recreation director is a city employee. The HRC is a volunteer advisory board appointed by the City Council. While not required, it seems reasonable for the HRC to be consulted if there are problems with the director’s performance.

Hillsboro has always struggled to find stable leadership for its recreation program. The salary isn’t great, given the responsibilities, but the position provides a good starting point and experience for someone interested in a recreation career.

The fact that Isaac’s roots are in Hillsboro was probably the main reason he held the position longer than the previous two recreation directors combined.

The termination may have had something to do with the decision to change the position from full- to part-time, an issue that I’ll discuss in another column. Suffice it to say, it appears that the dismissal wasn’t solely about job performance.

The dismissal likely resulted more from a difference in philosophies and a clash in personalities. When such differences occur, given the chain of command, right or wrong, the employee dusts off the resume.

I believe Isaac will take the good and bad from his experience as recreation director and land on his feet. The city needs to do the same to ensure that the recreation program remains strong for the good of the public it serves.

If there’s one thing we don’t need, it’s a “wreck”reation program.

The ball is in the city’s court. What they do with it remains to be seen.

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