Tama Co. Conservation director placed on administrative leave

Few details provided at this time


RURAL TOLEDO — As Otter Creek Lake slowly begins to refill following the long-awaited completion of the lake restoration project, Tama County Conservation has suddenly found itself without a leader.

Effective last Monday, July 31 at 4 p.m., Tama Co. Conservation Director Stephen Mayne was placed on paid administrative leave, according to board chairman John Keenan.

“That’s all I’m at liberty to say right now,” Keenan told Tama-Grundy Publishing in a phone call on Thursday, Aug. 3 following the regular monthly meeting of the board that was held the evening prior at Otter Creek Lake & Park Nature Center.

During the brief call, Keenan said he agreed the public had the “right to know” what was going on with the director’s employment status and as such said he would be providing further information to the newspaper as soon as he was allowed to do so.

Mayne was absent from Wednesday night’s meeting. All members of the board including Keenan, vice chair Carolyn Adolps, past chair Bryan Wacha, and Steve Kenkel were present.

Former chairman of the board Nathan Wrage of Gladbrook resigned last month and his replacement had not yet been appointed as of the August meeting.

Conservation staff in attendance at the meeting included naturalist Raina Genaw, park ranger/technician Dustin Horne, and park officer Riley Conrad.

Attorney Brent L. Hinders, a shareholder attorney at Hopkins & Huebner, P.C. in Des Moines, was retained by the Board of Conservation and was also present during the meeting.

The meeting’s agenda included several items that were skipped due to Mayne’s absence including the approval of the bills and the Director’s Report.

Mayne, an Iowa State graduate who holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and animal ecology, was hired in early March of 2021. He previously worked as an executive for the Boy Scouts of America.

Mayne was hired to the position in the wake of Logan Roberts’ resignation in December 2020. Prior to Roberts, Bob Etzel held the position for 40 years.

Following the regular meeting, the board along with Genaw who kept the meeting minutes, entered into closed session at 6:50 p.m. under Iowa Code 21.5(1)(c) in order to “discuss strategy with counsel in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent where its disclosure would be likely to prejudice or disadvantage the position of the governmental body in that litigation.”

The board remained in closed session until 7:41 p.m. No action was taken by the board following the closed session.

Tama-Grundy Publishing reached out to Mayne for comment regarding his employment status. As of publication, Mayne had not yet responded.

Other business

As part of the Maintenance Report, park officer Conrad said conservation staff picked up the new log splitter in July and began using it to split firewood. The plow truck netted $6,000 at Spanky & Sons Auction Co. last month. Later in the meeting Conrad also reported that from July 8 through Aug. 2, a total of 72 camping nights was recorded for a total of $1,360 in receipts. A couple of those were at T.F. Clark Park in rural Traer, the rest at Otter Creek.

Naturalist Genaw reported she conducted 13 programs in July with a combined 403 attendees. Programs at the Dysart Sesquicentennial and the Tama County Fair received the most attendance. The annual Fall Festival has been set for Oct. 8 from noon to 6 p.m. at the nature center and will include face painting, children’s games, multiple vendors, food trucks, and live music. Last year’s event saw record attendance.

The board approved Genaw’s request to hire both a face painter ($275 for two hours of service) and live music by Cain Alan & Deb for the Fall Festival.

As part of the lake restoration update, a formal request for payment from the Iowa DNR dated July 13 for lake and watershed restoration activities was presented. The invoice stated Tama County still owed $48,890.64 for work completed as part of Task 1: Lake Restoration Practices, and $215,614.28 for Task 2: Fish Habitat and Park Improvements, for a grand total of $264,504.92 owed to the Iowa DNR – an $11,444.25 cost overrun. Board member Wacha reported most of the overage appears to be from dirt work but he was unsure yet if there was more dirt removed than anticipated or the dirt had to be hauled a further distance. The board elected to table payment on the invoice until next month’s meeting.

The board approved part of a quote from Hrabak Lumber in Toledo for deck boards to fix the nature center deck for a total of $9,356.69. The quote for the handrail materials was not approved at this time.

Quotes were received from Van-Wall Equipment in Toledo for a new zero-turn lawn mower but the board did not approve at this time.

The nature center office’s geothermal HVAC unit is no longer functioning and needs to be replaced. The unit is 31 years old. The unit only cools the office and the library. Staff will leave the office door open until the unit is replaced. The board elected to revisit the issue in September after quotes for a new unit had been received.