Friday, November 29, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Commission’s new attitude

There was a time when the commission that runs Cabot parks appeared to thumb its collective nose up at the mayor and city council.

They didn’t comply with repeated requests for the director to attend monthly meetings and give status reports even though the council is responsible for approving money that helps pay park bills. There was an air of secrecy about the commission, which banished reporters to the hallway for dubious executive sessions, and a hands-off attitude about the associations that run parks programs such as baseball, football and BMX racing.

But that was before Mayor Bill Cypert took office three years ago and started threatening to disband the commission if it didn’t, as he said, “raise the bar.” That request may have been confusing to the commission, which was by that time made up mostly of recent appointees still trying to understand their new positions.

Some almost certainly thought the real issue was the sales tax they hoped to pass to raise money for a baseball park and other improvements. If they were successful, they would get their improvements, but Cypert was unlikely to find voter support for the sales tax extension he hoped to pass for other projects, like the sewer improvements on Hwy. 5, which is expected to be the next major growth area. The mayor wanted one tax to pay for several projects to benefit many areas in the city. Parks commissioners wanted their own tax to pay for everything on their wish list. They had been without long enough, they said, and it was time to give Cabot residents recreational activities like other cities have.

A town-hall meeting held in November 2012 showed that the parks commission had the support of the various ball associations that run parks programs, but that support didn’t seem to sway the mayor and council from their resolve to force the parks commission to take more responsibility for running the parks or get out of the way and let them do it.

The meeting seemed staged until two of the commission’s newest members spoke up. Maggie Cope, who was appointed only months earlier, said she wasn’t given any direction when she was appointed. “Tell us what you want us to do to improve,” she said.

And Ken Kincade, who was appointed after Cope, said the commission had tried to do what the mayor and council wanted. They had dealt with financial irregularities at the BMX track after council members and the mayor complained but they could do more. Kincade said, “We can do better. We will do better. I don’t want anyone to think we’re giving up. We’re not giving up.”

One year later, the commission is still intact and the sales tax extension that passed in April will pay $19 million for parks projects as well as for sewer improvements for the Hwy. 5 area.

The commission has hired a new director and program director, both with education and experience in the field.

Last month, three members of the commission formed a committee to go over the 2014 budget with John Crow, the new director, who prepared the budget with the help of his employees who he said justified every expenditure before it was included. And the committee went over it line by line with the press present.

Crow and Cope, the commission chairman since last fall, attend city council meetings and gave progress reports on projects. The mayor and city attorney attend commission meetings.

The heads of the associations that run many of the park ball programs are also there to report to the commission on finances, problems and successes.

It seems clear to this observer that, if the commission thumbed its nose at the mayor and council in years past, it doesn’t now.

The council created the commission and it can disband it. That’s a fact.

Cope said to the mayor one year ago, “Tell us what you want us to do to improve.” Judging by the actions and demeanor of the commissioners, he did and they listened. – Joan McCoy