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Dexter emerges as hero of joint Parks & Rec meeting

By ELAINE WILSON-REDDY

Contributing columnist

I attended the joint Danville City Commission-Boyle Fiscal Court Parks and Recreation meeting Monday evening. It was everything I expected and then some. Let me say up front that City Attorney Stephen Dexter was the hero of the evening. More on that later.

The purpose of the meeting was for the city commission and fiscal court to go through the existing ordinances that currently govern the parks and recreation board. These ordinances were enacted in the 1990s, years before Millennium Park.

As we know, there is a lot of tension and disagreement between the fiscal court and city commission. I don’t know why or when it began or what has caused it. Maybe it’s always been this way but Monday night the conflict was on full display.

Magistrate Phil Sammons expressed his desire that the county fund only Millennium Park. He was very clear that fiscal court money would not go to any other entity. He specifically stated he does not want any fiscal court (county) funds to go toward anything that happens in one of the “city” parks.

Once again, it seems that Mr. Sammons has forgotten that the “city” parks are actually in the county. Residents who live inside the city limits of Danville pay city AND county taxes. For Sammons to demand “county” funds go only to Millennium Park is narrow-minded and puts real constraints on programming for the parks and recreation board.

Magistrate Jason Cullen noted that Millennium Park is currently at capacity and the parks board would need to be creative in park usage. Why not use readily available facilities at “city” parks instead of spending more money to duplicate services? There are numerous private sporting leagues that require travel well beyond Boyle County. Having baseball or soccer practice at Jackson Park inside the city limits of Danville should not be a logistical issue or budget buster.

The parks board not only provides a framework for the programs offered, the board also oversees facility use and maintenance. Programs occur all around the county, including inside the city limits of Danville.  Does this mean Sammons wants to restrict all funding for programs that don’t occur at Millennium Park? That is certainly what his message seemed to be.

Magistrate Sammons was obviously upset and frustrated during the meeting. At one point, he blew up and added an expletive to one of his comments. Is this how cooperation is fostered? Is it only his way or the highway? That appeared to be his message Monday evening. Perhaps there is some training on decorum in which he can participate before the next joint meeting.

The other concern for me during the meeting was Magistrate Tom Ellis and his lack of understanding as to how the budgeting and appropriation process works for the parks board. During a conversation about the board providing training for board members and both governmental bodies, Ellis seems to be under the impression that the parks board had the power to engage in “tens of thousands of dollars in training” even if the money wasn’t appropriated for such. I think the term he used was “Pentagon Planning” or “Pentagon Budgeting.”

If the budgeted amount for the fiscal year for training is $2,000, and the funding is appropriated for that budget item, $2,000 is the limit on what can be spent on training. The parks board cannot spend money it doesn’t have. I don’t know what Ellis’ background is regarding understanding funding but the parks board cannot and does not function like the Pentagon.

Let me tell you about the hero, Stephen Dexter. He is an asset to our city and commission. He is calm, thoughtful, and intelligent. When Mr. Dexter speaks, his message is clear and concise.

He offered to write two proposals for the commission and fiscal court to consider. One proposal would be for the parks board to oversee only Millennium Park. The other proposal would be to include other parks under the board’s purview. Once that is hammered out, then items like budgets, oversight and parks operations can be worked out. But until the parks board knows what they are responsible for, the conflict will continue.

I am looking forward to seeing what Dexter puts together. I have complete confidence in his ability to pull the loose ends together and create logical, user-friendly documents. It will be a good start for the new parks director to have this clearly delineated as he begins his tenure.

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.