Magistrate questions need to reboot Parks & Rec

Published 8:09 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2019

City Manager Ron Scott and Commissioner J.H. Atkins were in attendance during Tuesday’s Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting, waiting to take in the response to the city’s latest offer to overhaul the management of the Parks & Rec system.

However, Judge-Executive Howard Hunt said the resolution containing the proposal, which was passed Monday by the city commission, didn’t make it into his email until late Monday night.

“But, I read today’s article about the commission meeting Monday, and it pretty well spells out the resolution,” Hunt told the court. He said the March 6 deadline of a response or counter-offer seemed like a reasonable request from the city, and wanted magistrates to study the offer before a special meeting would be called. A date for that meeting is yet to be determined.

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Danville has offered to take over operation and administration of Parks & Rec as a department of the city, with the city and county entering into a service agreement to outline roles and obligations. The Parks & Rec director would be hired by the city, not the Parks & Rec board as in the past. The Parks & Rec board would become an advisory committee to the city; and the city and county would repeal ordinances that created the joint Parks & Rec agency.

The resolution has nothing in it about any land swap deals; previous discussions fell apart in part over proposed property trades.

Boyle County Magistrate Phil Sammons responds to City Manager Ron Scott during a discussion regarding Parks & Rec and the city’s proposal. Photo by Bobbie Curd.

The new offer does include an arrangement where if the county agreed to sell the city Whites Park, Danville would offer the county approximately 1 acre of land from the fairgrounds property it recently acquired. The city’s purchase of the fairgrounds property catalyzed previous contentious negotiations over Parks & Rec, according to previous reporting.

Although magistrates hadn’t been able to review the resolution closely, Magistrate Jamey Gay spoke at length about exactly what was in the county’s ordinance concerning Parks & Rec. He said he didn’t understand the city’s position that things need to be changed.

“When all else fails, read the directions,” Gay said, holding up the ordinance. He said while the ordinance is old, it merely needs some “tweaking or amending to it.”

City Manager Scott was invited to speak to the court. Scott pointed to the recently completed master parks plan, paid for by the city: “It clearly suggests we have one government in charge … and not have a volunteer board.”

He said the city’s proposed agreement suggests the two entities create a “new framework” to govern Parks & Rec, “rather than one that’s 30 years old.”

“The report clearly states we need to significantly increase programming … and funding, plus various other improvements,” Scott said. “If we are going to progress, we need a new approach.”

Magistrate Gay said when he pressed the consultants who developed the parks master plan on the idea that Parks & Rec should operate under a single governmental entity, he was told that many parks agencies in the state operate under as a joint agency.

“Yes, it’s true — the smaller communities operate under a joint board,” Scott said. But he said when communities reach “the mid-sized growth area, they operate under one government.”

Magistrate Phil Sammons said he doesn’t understand “why the city is so excited and just wanting to take over the park.”

“I think if we have the proper board in place, you back off and we back off, let that board hire the director and they’re in charge running it,” Sammons said. “Then they come to us for problems. But we don’t need to micromanage it.

“… What I’m hearing from taxpayers is they don’t want either the county or the city to take it over; they want us both to be involved.”

“The proposal before you is not one or the other taking it over,” Scott said. He said the agreement requires both governments, through their staff, to recommend — with involvement from the board — programs and funding of programs, then to to be approved by the perspective bodies.

Scott said a part-time board doesn’t provide the administrative oversight a parks agency needs.

Sammons told Scott he’s overlooking the fact there is a director to be hired, who should be the person in charge of those needs for the agency, and who should be in charge of managing it.

“In the county government, you have department heads,” Scott said. 

Sammons retorted, “We’re trying to get a department head out there, sir,” referring to the stalled process of hiring a new Parks & Rec director.

“We’re good with that, but they need to report to one government or the other,” Scott said. He said there have been some “huge challenges” between the city and county in moving Parks & Rec forward: There’s an “obsolete pool” at Bunny Davis; a need for increased funding; and partnerships needed to help develop sports tourism, among other things.

Gay said he agreed with the needs, “but we’re stronger together than separate.”

Scott and the court also spoke about how the former court wasn’t interested in providing funding for any other parks in the city, only for Millennium Park. Gay said he never did agree with that.

“Shouldn’t matter who owns what park, just that they’re managed,” Gay said.