Tama Co. Conservation approves new memorial bench policy

Board addresses ongoing investigation into former director

TOLEDO – During the October meeting of the Tama County Board of Conservation, a new policy regarding the placement of memorial benches in county parks was approved in the wake of public comments made at previous board meetings.

The board unanimously approved the new policy during the regular monthly meeting held at Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center on Oct. 4.

Park ranger/technician Dustin Horne presented to the board a two-page memorial bench application he and naturalist Raina Genaw created. The new policy states that all applications must be approved by the board after being submitted to the conservation director.

“Placement of all memorials must be approved by TCCB [Tama County Conservation Board]. Map of available locations will be provided,” the application reads. “TCCB will guarantee a memorial bench until installment and [one] year after. If damage occurs during guaranteed timeframe, a request for replacement or relocation can be discussed. If damage occurs after guaranteed timeframe, a request for retrieval or relocation can be discussed.”

The cost for a memorial will cover the bench itself as well as the concrete pad, the installation, and a memorial plaque.

As part of the policy, Horne said there will be two types of benches the public can select from – a $1,000 option and a $600 option.

“[The new policy] just gives the board some control over what goes out there,” board member Bryan Wacha explained.

The application includes questions about the individual or group of individuals to be honored including the rationale behind the honor.

Applicants are also asked to address the honored individual/group’s “character, reputation, standing within the community or level of contribution to conservation or the community as a whole.”

Director update

Board chair John Keenan provided an update on the hiring of a new conservation director following former director Stephen Mayne’s resignation in August.

Keenan said the county had received six applications for the position. Interviews were tentatively scheduled to take place on Monday, Oct. 9 at the Administration Building in Toledo.

In a change from past conservation director searches, Keenan said that Tama County HR Administrator Tammy Wise suggested a team composed of herself, the board’s chair, and Tama County Auditor Laura Kopsa conduct the interviews instead.

“We’ve never done it that way before but I think it’s a good suggestion to get a different viewpoint,” Keenan said.

Following discussion, the board agreed to conduct the interviews as Wise suggested but added a fourth board member to the interview team, Jim Allen.

Later in the meeting, as part of the floor discussion, the topic of Mayne’s resignation and the subsequent investigation into Tama County Conservation’s finances by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa Auditor of State’s office was brought up.

Keenan told the board that $3,000 worth of Menards merchandise purchased by Mayne had been returned by conservation staff thus far. A pistol Mayne had purchased had also been sold for $400. Keenan indicated there was one more Menards return left to make, and then the board would need to “determine what to do with the rest.”

Keenan also said staff from the State Auditor’s office visited the nature center in late September and spent more than six hours speaking with Horne and Park Officer Riley Conrad.

“Now it’s time to let the police and auditors … deal with it,” Keenan said. “It’s not our job … they will keep us [updated].”

Keenan further said that it could be another two to three months before the board learns anything involving the investigation and what charges – if any – could be brought against Mayne.

Other business

Park Officer Conrad gave the maintenance report. Sixty-one camping nights were recorded for September in the county parks amounting to $1,160 in revenue.

A replacement memorial flag pole for the nature center would be installed soon while a replacement memorial bench had been installed in the campground.

New speed bumps had been installed in Otter Creek Lake & Park.

Camper’s Hill has been seeded with grass.

The deck work is finished.

The memorial prints that had been moved to the basement of the nature center during the pandemic were rehung in the main room.

GMG FFA will be helping to make more fish structures for Otter Creek Lake.

As part of the Environmental Education report, Genaw reported she had ordered new nameplates for the Board of Conservation plaque located near the nature center entrance.

She has also been working on a Bird Friendly Iowa application for Tama County – an application that was later approved by the board.

A meat donation for the Fall Festival from Iowa Premium was picked up.

Donations of pumpkins were received for the new after-school nature club at Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary School.

As part of the lake restoration update, Horne reported that “we’re now completely flush” on the contract.

Fish restocking was again brought up as it relates to the lake restoration project. Horne said he assumes the Iowa DNR will come back next spring to stock again.

A printer purchase and maintenance contract was approved by the board for $55,000.

A purchase was approved for new recycling bins in the nature center for $233.

The board approved hosting a quarter time AmeriCorps member next summer to assist Genaw. The cash match for the county will be $1,975.

An expenditure of $131 was approved for American Bird Conservancy BirdTape squares to prevent bird strikes on the nature center windows.

The board approved the construction costs for a retaining wall around the new boathouse at Otter Creek. The wall will be constructed by JRF Concrete based in Tama.

The fees to rent the nature center were increased from $125 per day to $250. Further, the damage deposit was increased from $100 to $150.

The board discussed updating the nature center rental agreement’s alcohol policy. Currently, no alcohol is allowed. No action was taken.

The board discussed the new playground equipment that has yet to be ordered for both Otter Creek and T.F. Clark Park.

As part of the floor discussion, Genaw shared that past board member Eugene (Gene) Anderson of Toledo passed away. In an email to Genaw from retired conservation director Bob Etzel, Etzel described Anderson as “a good guy and good board member” who will be “sorely missed.” A sympathy card was to be sent to Anderson’s family from the board members.