If Harrison Parks are taken into the city as a department, what role would the current Parks and Recreation Commission take?
That’s a question commissioners met Monday afternoon to begin trying to answer.
The city has allotted money to the Parks and Recreation Commission for about 30 years, then the commission operated the system autonomously. However, it hasn’t been uncommon for the commission to request additional funding, especially in later years as Parks’ facilities began to deteriorate with age. The city council currently appropriates about $500,000 annually to parks and recreation.
Commission chairman Bo Phillips spoke to the Harrison City Council in August about a proposal to take Parks in as a city department. The commission has little money and won’t be able to continue operating on the amount the city allots.
Still, Phillips told council members that commissioners would like to be able to have input on the system if parks becomes a city department.
Phillips on Monday presented commissioners with some proposals that included bylaws, a mission statement and proposed duties of what would become an advisory committee. Some of those proposed responsibilities included:
-Acting in an advisory capacity to the Harrison City Council to promote, aid and encourage public recreation and wellness, such as developing recreations and parks facilities with special emphasis on quality of programs.
-Advising the Parks and Recreation Department director regarding maintenance, development and operation of facilities and programs.
-Recommending reasonable rules and regulations to the council for proper use, management, government and protection of parks and programs.
-Act as a forum for the public to discuss issues relating to parks and recreation, as well as increasing public understanding and support for parks, recreation and wellness.
-Make recommendations to the city council regarding a Parks and Recreation director should the position come open.
Phillips opened the discussion up for input from commission members.
City council member Linda DeWald, who acts as a liaison between the commission and the council, said she felt the advisory committee’s main function should be to make recommendations that the parks director can take to the council for actions.
She likened the matter to an employee going to a supervisor with a complaint. It’s generally taken more seriously if the employee also presents a proposed solution as well. The advisory committee should be prepared to provide potential solutions to problems.
“Some of the people on city council have zero exposure to what parks is really all about,” DeWald said.
Phillips mentioned the advisory committee’s role in developing parks in the context of a proposal to return Lake Harrison to a free-flowing stream. Should the advisory committee be consulted on such a decision, or even those made about walking trails?
“Is that part of our scope or are we just ball fields?” Phillips asked.
Parks director Chuck Eddington said he had done research in the past when the city was considering adding parks as a department. As part of that, he spoke with other parks directors whose commissions moved into an advisory committee.
That research indicated the advisory committee handled matters more along the lines of parental complaints about league rules, people wanting to add something to an existing walking trail of other facility.
Those committees discussed those ideas and took them to the city council with recommendations for actions as opposed to citizens going directly to the council. Citizens could take their complaints to the advisory committee, then the director would take options to the council for action.
Eddington went on to explain that some citizens are unaware of the way the department currently operates.
The department doesn’t mow grass or dump trash cans at city parks. Such complaints about problems at parks go to him, but he then relays them to Public Works for a remedy.
Commissioner Scott Tennyson said he felt that such matters should go to the advisory committee at first, especially until the relationship between the city and committee is more defined.
The makeup of the committee and the number of members was also a point of discussion Monday.
Commissioners were reluctant to allow the mayor to appoint all committee members. They want to see that there are people on the committee who are not strictly political employees and know something about the parks and recreation world.
Historically, the mayor as the executive branch nominates committee appointments and the council as the legislative branch approves or denies those nominations.
In the end, commissioners decided to recommend a board made up of no less than seven members and no more than 11.
The general consensus was to request the mayor to appoint four members and Eddington to choose for others, plus one member of the city council as a voting member.
That would also give the flexibility to choose a special, temporary member for the purpose of a special project such as fund raising or other lobbying purposes.
Eddington said he would talk to Mayor Jerry Jackson at department head meetings Tuesday.
The commission is scheduled to meet in regular session Monday afternoon, Sept. 21. Eddington said the goal will be for commissioners to vote on the bylaws and organizational documents in order to get it to the city attorney to have it prepared in ordinance form that the council can consider and likely read for the first time Thursday, Sept. 24.