Speakers protest community center director’s dismissal

The Valley Banner

ELKTON — The recent firing of the director of the Elkton Area Community Center has riled some of the people that frequented the facility.

Nine people rose during the public comment period at Monday night’s Elkton Town Council meeting and spoke for about 15 minutes to protest the termination of Mark Pedersen. He was dismissed on July 18 after 15 months in the post.

Wayne Printz, Elkton’s mayor and interim town manager, has declined to say why Pedersen was let go, citing it as a personnel decision. He made the same pronouncement Monday night when asked directly about the firing.

Printz also maintained that the action was taken following discussions with fellow council members, not by him alone as some accused. The panel held multiple closed sessions to discuss personnel matters in the weeks leading up to the decision.

Several young people, including Jacob Hensley, spoke about their interactions with the former community center director.

“Mark really respected everyone at the community center,” he said, “and I felt he did a really good job.”

Crozet resident Tyler Rich, who has cerebral palsy and competes as an adaptive athlete, hailed Pedersen for his efforts to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

“The involvement of people like Mark is what makes the lives of people like me easier and more fulfilled,” the 25-year-old said. “... It saddens me to see people like him terminated.”

R.L. Eppard intimated that Pedersen, who has declined comment, might not have been told why the town let him go.

“I’ve never been fired — I’ve probably done some things I shoulda — but I would at least expect the respect to let me know why I was fired,” he said.

Pointed Comments
Two town residents took aim at the mayor and council.

Kim Merica accused Printz of turning Elkton’s government into a dictatorship, as he’s been the acting town manager for 18 months.

She claimed she’d seen the mayor “bully” Pedersen during community center events.

“A lot of the (EACC) members are really discouraged,” Merica said. “They don’t agree with the decision that was made by Printz, and they feel decision was made alone by Printz.

“And like I said before, I feel like our town has turned into a dictatorship, and that means people have no voice and it doesn’t matter what the citizens want anymore.”

Randell Snow, a former town councilman who’s lost to Printz in Elkton’s last two mayoral races, called Pedersen’s termination “unjustified” and said it was “not done according to reasonable guidelines which a professional town manager and council would have followed.”

He also questioned the council members’ actions.

“This council of supposedly a mayor and six independent council members have become a rubber-stamp committee that seems to be working in unison to further the mayor’s agenda,” Snow asserted. “They’re not considering what’s best for our citizens.

“If you don’t know what your job is, you need to learn what your job is, and some of you don’t know what your job is, and I’m sorry to say that.”

Printz responded to the criticism by saying the council took “relieving someone of their duties very seriously” and said the dismissal was “only done as a last resort.”

While not referencing Pedersen, he said that unless there were “mitigating circumstances,” an employee would be dismissed only after coaching and consultation with Councilman Harry Armbruster, chairman of the Personnel Committee; the council; and Town Attorney Nathan Miller.

Later in the meeting, Armbruster said the Personnel Committee would meet in closed session the following day to go over the 28 to 30 applications received for the position.

Paving, Grave Markers OK
Among actions taken by the council, its members voted 6-0 to award Smith Paving a contract for $96,251 to upgrade the town’s streets.

The work includes repaving parts of B, C and F streets and East Spotswood Avenue and extending Park Avenue to connect with the turnaround at the end of Roland Avenue.

It also will pave the road to Bear Lithia Spring from North East Side Highway past Bear Lithia Springs Baptist Church. Printz said that action has called for by those using the road for some time because it’s riddled with potholes and vehicles carry mud and debris onto the pavement as they leave.

Council members Steve America, Harry Armbruster, Jay Dean, Joshua Gooden, Margaretta Isom and Jeff Jones voted to support the paving work.

The panel unanimously approved a contract to allow the newly formed Elkton Soccer Club to use town fields for games, reappointed Roy Gene Davis to the Planning Commission, and agreed to spend $3,900 to buy 130 grave markers for the Elk Run Cemetery.

The council members also voted 6-0 to spend $28,716 in state funding to buy a mower to use to maintain public right of way in the town. Troy Shifflett, the town’s public works director, said the equipment would cut the weed eating town staff does in those areas by 80 percent.

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