City Council, Park Board look to get on same page with joint meeting

It’s been more than a year since the city set aside 22 properties to transfer to the Metro Parks and Recreation District, but so far only five of the transfers have been completed.

The City Council and the Park Board of Commissioners are planning a joint meeting on Sept. 7 to try to realign the potential transfers.

“There seems to be differing views on the part of different members of the City Council, and we weren’t at all clear on what the city’s intentions are,” said Park Board Chair Lee Cross.

Some councilors and commissioners said the relationship between the two bodies needs work. Park board members have expressed frustration during joint projects such as the development of Strawberry Plant Park, while the council bristled at the park board taking $100,000 of a grant for the Williams Property for an administrative fee earlier this year.

Members of the two bodies agreed that a more well-defined relationship will fix the issues and help move the transfers forward.

“I think they want the same thing we want, which is a better, clearer working relationship,” Mayor Bob Scales said.

Though the two bodies often interact on projects, they have no written accord that delineates who is responsible for what.

“It makes sense for each of our governments to do what it does best,” Scales said. “The park district is designed to manage and maintain parks, and the city is clearly not in that position.”

The city and the district have been working since 2005 to get the city out of the park business. A committee formed that year decided that all park-like properties should be transferred to the park district.

So far, that hasn’t been the case. Several parks were transferred soon after this committee was formed, but activity slowed until the Real Property Review was completed last year. The infusion of three new councilors into the situation has led to more hesitancy to transfer the land as soon as possible.

“From our end of things, that’s the frustrating part,” said parks commissioner Kirk Robinson, who’s a regular attendee of council meetings. “We thought we had something laid out and going on in terms of getting this done or not done. For me it’s one thing to say ‘no we don’t want to transfer’, it’s another to drag it out and not get an answer.”

Both bodies said a formalized agreement would remove this uncertainty.

The process of transferring the parks came to a halt at the June 2 council study session when Scales questioned the costs incurred by the city and suggested tacking on an administrative fee for transferring the parks. That led to transfer of the Fort Ward Parade Grounds property being pulled off the table, and there has been little activity since then.

Staff communication has continued between the city and park district, however, and the two legislative bodies have been attempting to schedule a joint meeting to get things back on track.

The troubles transferring the parks represents one in a list of issues that have surfaced between the city and park district in recent years.

The most recent issue occurred over the last few months as the Strawberry Plant Park shoreline project neared a conclusion in the council. The city is tasked with developing the shoreline portion into a salmon habitat, while the park district will convert the upland, primarily concrete portion, into a park.

The city asked for an advisory opinion from the park board, but passed 90 percent design on the project the night before. Several members of the park board were annoyed by the city’s planning process.

“If the city truly wanted a park district advisory vote, they wouldn’t have approved their 90 percent design prior to the park board vote,” Robinson said.

The park board voted 3-2 against the city’s plan, though that vote carried no legal weight because the city owns the land.

Cross said the relationship between the two bodies isn’t poor or strained, but it could use some more communication and coordination.

“We get focused on what we’re doing, and the City Council gets focused on what they’re doing, and we forget to make sure the others know what’s going on,” she said. “I think both of us, the City Council and the park board need to be more aware of how our actions affect the other governing body.”

Cross said she’s seen good progress through a joint committee for the new senior center downtown. Members of both the park board and the council are a part of that committee, and Cross said more situations like that will strengthen the two groups’ relationship.

“I think the way for us to go is to have more of these joint working committees that work on specific projects,” she said. The more we do that, the more that trust builds up.”

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