Magistrates, commissioners discuss different visions for joint Parks & Rec board

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up story to yesterday’s coverage of Monday’s joint Parks & Rec meeting, providing a deeper dive into the conversations held between Danville city commissioners and Boyle County magistrates.

As the joint meeting began Monday, held between the Danville City Commission and Boyle County Fiscal Court to discuss updating the Parks & Recreation ordinances, Magistrate Jason Cullen asked the two bodies go into it with the right mindset.

“And really think about a certain individual, who was a huge part of parks, that we just lost,” Cullen said, referring to John Cocanougher, a long-time Parks & Rec employee who recently passed away. “Mr. Cocanougher gave blood, sweat and tears for parks. As we have this discussion, we should keep his memory in our hearts; he was a true servant of Parks & Rec, and maybe that will help kind of guide us.”

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The two bodies poured over a combination of the ordinances already on the books which govern the agency, in order to clarify exactly what the Parks & Rec board is charged with overseeing. Commissioner J.H. Atkins added notes and changes he and others had suggested, such as listing all of the parks in Danville and Boyle County.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Magistrate Phil Sammons told Atkins. “It says ‘the board shall provide, maintain and operate parks — that should be Millennium Park. We’re not going to provide money for ‘parks,’ period.”

Sammons said when Millennium Park was built — “and there’s only two to three of us around who were here — the city and county agreed at the time that we close these other little parks.”

“Nope. Didn’t happen,” Commissioner Kevin Caudill said, who’s been on the commission for 14 years.

“I’m telling you, I’ve got proof right here, with me,” Sammons said, motioning over to a former judge-executive. “Well, Tony Wilder, am I right or not?”

Wilder, who presided over the fiscal court during Millennium’s creation and construction in the ‘90s, said, “The actual partnership agreement was, at the time, that a lot of neighborhood parks would revert to passive status.” He said the plan, back then, was for all recreational activities to “be focused and centered on our multidimensional park.”

Caudill said he agreed with that characterization, but not that the smaller parks would be closed.

Atkins pointed out that the ordinance was written with the word “parks” all along — that’s not a proposed change.

“So, if it’s improper, it’s in our ordinances. I think that’s the way it’s been operating,” he said.

After some discussion, Wilder pointed out that “everything up there is about the park board,” not indicating exactly what the city and county are individually responsible for.

Wilder said he came to the meeting because he was concerned about one governmental entity having all control over the agency — a proposal previously made by Danville and rejected by the fiscal court — and because of “some misconceptions about the park … particularly the county’s involvement.”

Wilder reminded the bodies that when the park was built under the city-county partnership, Parks & Rec was a programmatic system.

“(The county) did programming, and the maintenance and capital improvements were with the city. City parks at that time had nothing to do with programs … We never paid one dime on any neighborhood park in Danville for capital improvements,” Wilder said.

Atkins said he thinks people incorrectly think money from the county for capital improvements at Millennium have been used on city parks. That hasn’t happened, he said.

Wilder said the creation of Millennium Park marks one of his proudest moments in office. He called it “a jewel and an absolute hallmark of working together.” He said the city and county came together to develop the park, each contributing $1 million. And that was at a time when “the court I worked with were all good people, but weren’t the most progressive,” he said. And the court was footing the bill for a new jail and EMS agency, he added.

Wilder said he felt like there was “a little less love for the county here in this discussion,” and hoped the two bodies can work it out. “Nobody wants to see this division.”

“We’re going to work it out,” Caudill said.

Magistrate Jamey Gay said, “That’s exactly the point — it is programmatic.”

Gay, an atheletic trainer and coach, said, “We have maxed out those areas in Millennium Park. Now, we’ve got to find out how we can program and better utilize all (of the parks), which includes city parks … One of the limitations is that a good percentage of the (Millennium Park) land isn’t programmatic, other than trails and mowing … We have to look at other areas, too.”

Cullen said, “To an extent, we’re limited. We have to be more resourceful. Utilizing the taxpayers’ money properly — just because we have wants doesn’t mean they are needs.”

He asked that the fiscal court be given information from the city on what it takes to operate all of its smaller, neighborhood parks. Cullen said this could be one of the missing puzzle pieces. “We don’t know the financial impact of what the city pays.”

The master plan was brought up many times, a thick binder of information returned last year by a consulting firm the city hired, full of survey results, facts and figures about the parks system. The plan recommends several long-term initiatives, some with hefty price tags, like a family aquatic center, which the city has expressed interest in building but others have spoken up against.

Cullen said according to the master plan — which he noted was commissioned by the city — some of the city’s parks were described as vastly underused and undermaintained.

“And so to ask the county to kind of come in now, that we want to try and revitalize things, it’s almost like we’re flipping a park. We gotta come in and spend a lot of money to make that thing nice,” Cullen said, specifically using Jackson Park as an example. “The study we keep talking about here, that was from the city — it goes on to say that one of the public opinion surveys said 99 percent of the people visit Millennium Park. So it is something we need to concentrate on.”

He said part of the county’s reaction to the proposed ordinance is based on the city asking the county to go from caring for two to three parks (counting Whites Park and Constitution Square) to taking care of several more.

Former Magistrate Jack Hendricks said, “I would like to point out — for the lack of a better word — reality.” His thoughts came from not only his time on the court, but from serving on the Parks & Rec board and the former ad hoc committee charged with overseeing capital improvements to Millennium Park.

He said while serving on the ad hoc committee, the past board and director handed over a thick binder about five years ago, which outlined more than $900,000 of work that needed to be done in the park. He said that was why, as a magistrate, he didn’t agree with the county participating in the consulting firm study of the parks system; “We had our own people telling us what we needed.”

Hendricks said the ad hoc committee was only able to get about $300,000 worth of the work needed to be done due to limited funding. “If we can only come up with that much, why are we talking about these multi-million dollar projects? … Why don’t we concentrate on (Millennium) for now … We don’t have enough money to buy the whole pie.”

City Attorney Stephen Dexter will draft two different ordinances for the bodies to independently review — one representing a joint Parks & Rec Board which only manages Millennium Park, and one that has the board manage the entire Danville-Boyle County parks system. Mayor Mike Perros said he would like “to come to a conclusion by June 1,” and suggested another joint meeting before that date.

Dexter agreed with the deadline, but had a different view about another joint meeting. “What’s important now is that the digesting of options should happen in each individual body,” he said.


Bryce Perry, chair of the Danville-Boyle County Parks & Recreation Board, was asked to tell the city and county Monday a bit about the agency’s newly-hired director, set to come on board May 6. Perry said although John Bell has vast parks experience, certifications and degrees, “I’d be remiss to tell you that we didn’t hire him just because of that — it was the complete package.”

Perry said in discussions with Bell, he and others used the master plan “a lot as a guiding tool and reference point, without getting into funding issues.” They were particularly impressed with his ideas for growth, he said. “We want our program to be the best in the state, and we feel he can do that.”

Perry said Bell actually “secret shopped” the Parks & Rec department; he came into the office before his interview, without anyone knowing who he was, to check the operation out first-hand.