PORTAGE | Longtime Portage Parks Department employee Pam Passera has tendered her intent to retire at the end of the month, citing difficulties with a Park Board member.
Superintendent Jenny Orsburn and Park Board President Ken Lorenz both confirmed Passera will be leaving the department and that she emailed Orsburn earlier this week with her intentions.
In part, that email blamed board member Debra Ekdahl.
"I am constantly on pins and needles since Deb Ekdahl publicly threatened to take down our preschool as well as publicly question me about the safety of the haunted hayride and how I would keep everyone safe. Lord knows when she will compromise another park program. I don't understand how a board member can be so hurtful and hateful towards the very department she governs," Passera wrote, adding Ekdahl's actions had caused her "a great deal of physical and emotional stress."
Ekdahl said she believes Passera's letter is an effort to deflect "the real issues" going on in the parks department and that it is in retaliation for supporting former preschool director Judy Taylor.
Ekdahl said Passera is the eighth person to quit the parks department since Orsburn was named superintendent.
"I have repeatedly asked the board to get that superintendent some help," Ekdahl said, adding she believes Orsburn needs additional management training.
Passera has worked for the parks department for about 25 years, most recently as its director of recreation.
At last month's Park Board meeting, Ekdahl criticized both Passera's and Orsburn's handling of the Woodland Park Preschool program. Some 30 parents attended that meeting after five teachers, including the program's director, quit over differences with the administration and the hiring of another teacher.
Parents also were upset that a 3-year-old student had walked away from the preschool building unaccompanied by any staff and was found in the park's parking lot by another parent.
Ekdahl demanded Orsburn's resignation at the meeting.
"I didn't say anything to that board at that meeting that wasn't the truth," Ekdahl said.
"Obviously we have to fill her (Passera's) spot and we have to get control of the board," said Lorenz, adding he believes Ekdahl, a Portage Township School Board appointee to the Park Board, violated the school district's code of conduct by her behavior at the September Park Board meeting.
"Pam has been vital to the success we have had over the last couple of years," said Orsburn. "Her retirement is definitely a loss for us."
"You look to your board as a support system. When one part of that is missing, it really affects you," said Orsburn.
Mayor James Snyder did not comment on the content of Passera's email. Instead, in a written statement, he praised Passera for her years with the department and the "positive impact on every Portage resident's quality of life."
Passera did not return a message for comment.