As Prosecutor’s Office Investigates, Nelsonville Manager Says Gaga Ball Court Will Be Rebuilt

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NELSONVILLE — The city manager in Nelsonville said a gaga ball pit will be rebuilt, though the timeline for that rebuild depends on a prosecutor’s review of how the old one was removed.

The gaga ball pit – used for a type of dodgeball – was a source of controversy after the president of city council, Dan Sherman, told a meeting of the Nelsonville Parks and Recreation Committee that he had asked for its removal. The resident-run group Sunshine on Nelsonville posted an audio recording of the meeting on their Facebook page.

In being questioned by Cory Taylor, leader of Boy Scout Troop 60, Sherman said the pit, located at Nelson Commons Park, had become a “a big cat litter box.”

“I asked the person that paid for it if it could be taken down because it is a health hazard with cats as nasty as they are, especially the feral cats that run around town,” Sherman told the committee meeting.

Sherman was referring to Rocky Boots’ Mike Brooks, who Sherman said donated a portion of the money to build the pit. In an interview with WOUB, Sherman said he’d reported the pit as a health hazard to City Manager Chuck Barga.

Taylor, who said the materials were donated by local businesses, told the committee the pit was built by the Boy Scouts, and they were committed to taking care of it.

“We’ve said that we would maintain it if there was any problems with it, which we have,” Taylor said at the meeting. “If there were going to be issues with it, it would have been nice to at least be notified, or maybe there’s a solution to it.”

City Councilman Taylor Sappington said Sherman needed to ask for approval of council before making the decision. Sappington also said the story of how the court was removed changed from the meeting of the recreation committee to a meeting of city council.

“Suddenly, the council president was claiming he directed the city manager to remove it,” Sappington told WOUB. “Which would still be a violation of our local laws, but complicates the situation.”

City Manager Chuck Barga did say Sherman asked him to have it removed, and Barga directed city crews to remove the pit. He said he had not received any complaints about the state of the pit, but that Sherman had received complaints.

Sherman told WOUB in a Wednesday phone interview that community members visiting the park had complained about the gaga ball pit.

He feels the issue is being “blown way out of proportion” and says he is unsure what the prosecutor’s office is investigating. However, he said he plans to bring an attorney if the prosecutor asks to speak with him again.

“Did I go down the right channels? I probably could have had a conversation with council,” Sherman said. “But I did not order the city workers to remove it, and the city manager has the right to remove anything on city property.”

Sherman also said he was not there when the pit was removed, and reporting it as a health hazard to Barga was “as far as my commitment goes.”

But Barga said, through a phone conversation and in response to a public records request, there is no documentation regarding the request or the removal of the pit.

“Everything was done verbally or over the phone,” Barga said, adding that he told the Athens County Sheriff’s Office the same thing, and has met with the prosecutor’s office as well.

The city manager said “hindsight being what it is,” he thinks he would have mentioned the request to city council, but still does not think he was obligated to tell them.

“Based on our charter, I’m empowered to run the city’s…day-to-day operations,” Barga said.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn confirmed he is looking into the matter of the removal of the pit, but declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation.

Sherman said he has spoken with the prosecutor’s office over the phone. He said he believes the prosecutor’s office has “handled this very wrong,” and the complaint filed with the office was “more than likely” political in nature.

“It’s just poor publicity for the city of Nelsonville,” Sherman said.

Barga says once the prosecutor’s office investigation has concluded, “at some point” the pit will be rebuilt, possibly using the same lumber. He said he wants to “make it right,” but include a surface other than sand to avoid future health hazards.