Residents show support for ousted parks director

2013-09-17T22:15:00Z 2013-10-05T21:13:09Z Residents show support for ousted parks directorBy Mary Wilds Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 17, 2013 10:15 pm  • 

CEDAR LAKE | Several residents spoke out in support of former Parks Director Mary Joan Dickson at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.

“There has been a two-year witch hunt (against Dickson),” Frank Orsini, of Havenwood Court, said as the audience applauded. “No one has worked harder or cared more about the kids than Mary Joan.”

Town Manager Ian Nicolini would say last week only that Dickson is no longer employed by the town. Dickson herself would not comment, but said she has retained an attorney.

The Council ended up in litigation over its Park Board in 2011 and again in 2012 after dissolving the Park Board. Board members who were removed in March 2011 — Gina Alessia, Candi Reiling and Andrews Balkema — filed a lawsuit against the town after a new board was appointed. Reiling said at the time that one of the goals behind the Park Board’s dismissal was to oust Dickson, an allegation that was denied by town officials.

The Council eventually dissolved the Cedar Lake Park Board and, as part of a restructuring, established a Department of Parks and Recreation Committee to oversee the department.

This year, a superior court judge ordered Alessia, Reiling and Balkema reappointed with back pay. The judge also ordered park properties returned to the Park Board. However, the State Court of Appeals subsequently overturned the ruling and upheld the town’s right to dissolve its Park Board.

Dickson’s supporters got emotional and at times angry during Tuesday’s meeting. Rachelle Rugebernard said that Dickson’s removal left her and other parents in the lurch. She, her husband and another coach had to step up to take charge of the soccer program, she said.

“You may smirk up there,” she said. “But I didn’t appreciate it being dropped in my lap.”

Town Council President Randy Niemeyer did not respond to residents’ comments. He also would not comment on Dickson’s situation.

“There will be many developments in the future,” he said, when asked if Cedar Lake would be hiring a parks director anytime soon. “We’re continuing our reorganizing and restructuring.”

Dickson spent 34 years working in one manner or another for Cedar Lake, as a volunteer, teacher, a coach in the school system, and as Cedar Lake’s parks director.

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