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Frozen park funds force caretaker out

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:19 PM

Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city’s public works crews will be taking over maintenance of the park.

The issue is the result of a series of lawsuits and rulings related to the death of a Nunica child from injuries he suffered while sledding at the park in 2009.

While reviewing one of the lawsuits, an Ottawa County Circuit Court judge ruled the park belonged to the city and not to the park’s trust, thus giving governmental immunity to the park trustees at the time – Ed Lystra, Jerry Scott and Rodney Griswold. A separate lawsuit targeting DeHare was set aside pending an appeal.

After the Circuit Court decision, the city formed a new, five-member Duncan Park Commission that kept DeHare on as its caretaker.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in March that the trust, not the city, owned the park. McGinnis said that ruling caused a lot of confusion about what should be done with the park — and, in the meantime, the city attorney advised the city that it could not access park funds, which are held by the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

DeHare can’t be hired as a part-time parks worker for the city because of union restrictions, the city manager said.

Several years ago, officials were already having discussions with the former Duncan Park commissioners about the possibility of the city taking over the park when the fatal sledding incident happened, McGinnis said. The park commissioners at the time had not met for more than two years, he said.

Chance Nash, 11, died from injuries he suffered when his sled ran into a snow-covered stump at the park on Dec. 31, 2009.

McGinnis pointed out a license agreement between the Duncan Park Commission and the city in 1994 allows the city to use the park “solely for the benefit of the people of Grand Haven and for no other purposes.” Because of the license, McGinnis said the current commission will continue to oversee operations to make sure the park is run in the manner set forward in the deed establishing the trust.

To read the whole story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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