Officials ponder next steps after Parks & Rec proposal rejected

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Some are responding with surprise after the Boyle Fiscal Court voted to reject Danville’s proposal to take over operation of Danville-Boyle County Parks & Recreation.

In a special called meeting held Monday by the court, Magistrate Tom Ellis made the motion that the agency continue operating as a joint entity, as mandated by an ordinance created in 1990. Magistrate John Caywood voted against the motion, as well as Judge-Executive Howard Hunt, who is only required to vote in the case of a tie.

Hunt said he was a little bit surprised by the vote.

Commissioner Rick Serres, second from left, offers up some thoughts when asked Monday during Boyle Fiscal Court’s special meeting. Photo by Bobbie Curd.

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“What I was really surprised at is that Ellis brought the motion to the floor early on, without any discussion of ways to move forward,” Hunt said Tuesday. “We didn’t examine any alternate plans, the motion was just made. I was disappointed in that.”

Hunt said even though he was not required to vote, he felt like it was important.

“The reason I voted is I feel strongly about it … even though I was in the minority, I wanted the people to know I agreed with Magistrate Caywood, and how he articulated his argument,” he said. “I’m not one to shy away or run away.”

Hunt agreed with Caywood’s assertions that the city “only wants to take over the operational and management” aspects of the agency, and that the county “can have input based on the structure we put together,” as Caywood put it Monday.

“From a management standpoint, I totally agree that one entity is better to direct operations than multiple people,” Hunt said.

The court also discussed the possibility of having a sitting magistrate or other court representative as part of the Parks & Rec board. Hunt said Tuesday putting a magistrate or Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley on the board “should improve communications.”

There are two seats open on the Parks & Rec board presently; a county seat and a jointly-appointed city/county seat. When the court discussed the possibility of appointing a sitting magistrate to the board, Caywood said the county had decided against it several years back due to conflicts of interest, and to avoid members becoming “cheerleaders” for their prospective boards.

City Commissioner Rick Serres, who was also present for Monday’s special meeting, has regularly attended parks meetings for years. He served as chairman of the Parks & Rec board back in the ‘90s, when Millennium Park was being developed.

Serres said he discussed the idea of appointing city and county officials to the Parks & Rec board with City Attorney Stephen Dexter. “He … didn’t think it was a good idea.”

Another option would be appointing city and county officials as ex officio members, making them part of the board but not giving them a vote.

“I think being ex officio is a great idea, rather than be a voting member,” Serres said. He said it’s a good way to carry information back to the two government bodies, without having influence on voting outcomes.

Under Danville’s proposal that was rejected by Boyle County, the Parks & Rec board would have taken on an advisory role, rather than making decisions directly.

Serres said he’s OK with Boyle County’s decision.

“I’m very open to (Magistrate Jamey Gay’s) suggestion to keep it like it is, but find out what our ails of the past are and fix them,” Serres said. “… If it comes through compromise, that’s the best.”

Gay also suggested the county could take over Parks & Rec instead of the city, since the county represents a broader base of constituents who use the parks. Serres said he thinks Gay “was calling a bluff” with that suggestion.

“The reality is (the county) is part-owner of Millennium, but the rest of the parks are run by the city. If they’re going to run it, how are they going to fund it?” Serres asked.

Danville Mayor Mike Perros said he was “mildly surprised” with Monday’s vote.

Judge-Executive Howard Hunt, left, listens as Magistrate Jamey Gay discusses why he doesn’t think the city should solely operate Parks & Rec during Monday’s special fiscal court meeting. The court voted in favor of rejecting the city’s proposal to take the agency over. Photo by Bobbie Curd.

“Now that we’ve gotten a pretty solid affirmation that the county wants to be partners in Parks & Rec, I think it would be appropriate for the city and county have a working session, and really talk about full disclosure of the partnership going forward,” he said. “… If we’re going to be partners, let’s be partners.”

Perros said the suggestion that the Parks & Rec negotiations amount to a power struggle between Danville and Boyle County sticks in his craw.

“This whole thing was never about ownership. This whole thing was about making the most effective and efficiently operated Parks & Rec for everybody,” he said.

Parks & Rec Chair Bryse Perry said the board is ready for a decision and resolution, “whatever that is.”

“We’ll do whatever they decide to do,” he said. “We do have good people on our board; we care a lot about the park.”

Perry has only been in the chairman’s seat for a couple of months now, and said he is trying to “stay out of the back and forth, and keep our head above water.”

One thing for sure, he said: “We’re ready for a new director.”

The position has been open since last summer, when long-time Director John Drake retired.

Perry said the disagreements between the city and county caused some issues during a first round of interviews of applicants for the director position.

“People weren’t comfortable taking on the job because everything is up in the air with the two bodies,” he said. “We’d like for it to get resolved.“

Perry said the board has received several applications for the open director position to review, which were forwarded to it from Danville.

Monday, in the special meeting, Caywood closed the explanation of his “no” vote with a few more comments: “There’s not always been a level of trust working with the city and other joint government agencies. I hope we can get rid of that and raise that level of trust. In order to have credibility, we have to raise the level of trust that I feel like has been lacking in the past.”