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Magistrate, city officials disagree on purpose of Parks & Rec committee

Magistrate Jack Hendricks said he was very confused after reading comments in the paper made about the Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation ad hoc committee during a June Danville City Commission meeting.

Hendricks, who is part of the ad hoc committee, said he takes issue with City Attorney Stephen Dexter’s assertion the committee had gone outside the scope of work it was charged to do. At the meeting, Dexter said the ad hoc committee was created to present formal recommendations to the city and county, and that not one recommendation had been brought to the city commission.

“The fact is we got recommendations from the Parks & Rec board that we reviewed, tweaked, made suggestions as to what we had funds for,” Hendricks said. “If that’s not bringing recommendations, I don’t know what else you’d call it.”

The conversation has been ongoing since requests were recently made to extend the life of the ad hoc committee — an advisory committee created in 2015. It’s been extended multiple times over the years, and now will run through the end of the year, in order to continue working on parks capital improvements.

“It was first realized, back years ago, that there was about $950,000 worth of upgrades and improvements needed to be done in Millennium Park, since not much had been done in the last 12 years before that,” Hendricks said. “Thus far, we’ve completed about $250,000-plus of those projects. Contrary to what some folks think, this ad hoc committee was formed solely for the purpose of getting capital improvements done in Millennium. That very question was asked at a least 10 meetings: ‘Are we here just to take care of Millennium Park?’ and the answer was always, ‘Yes’ — and it was for capital improvements only.”

But, Dexter says, that was only a part of a long list of things the committee was formed to do. He referred to the joint resolution, drafted between the city and county and dated March of 2016. The resolution states the ad hoc committee was established “to review the current state of all facets of parks and recreation in order to bring recommendations for improvement to the county and city bodies for review … facilities, needs, structure, programming and other park-related issues until recommendations for improvement are adopted by the committee and presented to the county and city.”

“They had focused on the capital expenditures part, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Dexter said. “But my point was there’s other things they were charged to do.”

Dexter said in order to take “formal action,” the committee should discuss and vote on recommendations, not simply give oral testimonies from the members. “It needs to be in a written document, and submitted to each government body.”

Dexter said his job as city attorney is not as an elected or public official. “My duty is to advise the city of what they can and cannot do legally.”

City Manager Ron Scott, also a member of the ad hoc committee, said when the county acted to “extend their part” of the ad hoc committee a couple of months ago, there was no resolution presented and no discussion of how the committee’s purpose might be changed. Since then, fiscal court has said it would like to revamp the joint resolution to more clearly describe the responsibilities of the committee, and the scope of its work: For example, is its function to review and make recommendations for all of the parks? or just Millennium?

“Since that time, there’s been increased conversations that the ad hoc committee has had — despite the resolution that’s charged them with looking at the overall needs (of the city/county parks system) — we’re going to be concerned with making capital improvements only. I think that’s different from the broader charge, but that’s what we did because of the realization that we were past due in making those improvements,” Scott said.

Scott said the city and the county jointly had “great enthusiasm as Millennium was created,” but then the Great Recession hit, and the city had other priorities.

“I agree that progress was made. They may not have been formal recommendations (from the ad hoc committee), but improvements were made, nevertheless,” Scott said.

However, now that a master parks plan study is due back from the consulting firm, he said first the bodies must get together and understand exactly where they stand.

“Before we continue to improve Millennium Park — and there’s really only minor improvements left — we’re going to regroup with the study. Does the ad hoc need to continue to exist? No, I don’t think so. We’ve got administrative people in the city and county that can do that.”

Scott said not to be repetitive, but again: The ad hoc committee has no approved budget and no authority.

“Their charge is to discuss and to report and recommend … I think what Mr. Hendricks is saying is that we’ve discussed these needs and the city has voted on it, but that’s not correct. I’ve sat on the committee.”

“We need to have a community discussion. We’ve made improvements,” he said. “If you’re going to have an advisory committee, it shouldn’t be segregated into one, smaller area,” such as Millennium Park.

Scott said other parks should be considered for improvement, as well.

“Again, I’m not criticizing the ad hoc committee. We’ve done a lot. But the city has gone far beyond that, as far as the improvement of our energy efficiency upgrades. Over $450,000 of upgrades to lights and other things. Those are not shared expenses; they probably should be. But it just happened to be a part of our efficiency upgrades. And the county — they will share in the savings from that, too. They didn’t contribute, but we didn’t ask them to, we just did it.”

Scott said he never had any objection to extending the committee, “as long as it didn’t detract from the city and county looking at the broader scope of Parks & Rec as a whole.”