Youngstown voters to decide fate of park and rec panel

Published: Thu, August 8, 2013 @ 12:06 a.m.

By David Skolnick


City voters will consider a charter amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot to eliminate the park and recreation commission, a group in existence since 1935.

City council’s three-member park and playgrounds committee voted Wednesday to forward the recommendation for a charter amendment to the full city council.

With the other four city council members attending the meeting, and none objecting to the proposal, it is a mere formality for lawmakers to approve putting the proposed amendment on the ballot when it next meets Aug. 21.

“We have a layer of bureaucracy that doesn’t serve us well,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, a member of the park and playgrounds committee.

“I fully support putting it on the ballot and” dissolving the commission, said Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, who doesn’t sit on the park and playgrounds committee.

Council has until Sept. 6 to submit language for charter amendments for the Nov. 5 ballot.

With its members not discussing any other possible charter amendments, getting rid of the park and recreation commission is likely the only council-backed proposal city voters will consider in November.

Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, chairman of the park and playground committee, said legislation will be written by the law department to eliminate charter provisions about the park and recreation commission, have the park and recreation director report directly to the mayor. Council members also supported having any new park and recreation director hired by the mayor to be confirmed by council.

The park and recreation “commission wants everything to go through them before it comes to council and council makes the final decision,” Drennen said. “It put [Director Robert Burke] in a bad situation when we’re on two different pages.”

Swierz said the commission played politics in the past with the hiring of a director and park employees. “They had autonomy and did what they wanted,” he said.

There has been long-standing tension between the commission, and city council and the administration.

City voters approved an overhaul of the commission in November 2007, voting in favor of ballot issues to strip nearly all of its power except the hiring of a director.

Anthony Spano, the commission’s chairman, said the all-volunteer, unpaid five-member board is concerned only with improving the quality of life of the community.

“It’s not a political thing,” he said. “We are doing what’s best for the citizens of Youngstown.”

Nancy Walker-McCain, the commission’s vice chairwoman, said, “It’s sad to see that a board that volunteers its time and [is] concerned about making citizens’ quality of life better is being targeted. When people [vote], they should consider who’s addressing their needs. I strongly feel that the park and recreation commission is looking out for the citizens.”

Some council members said they were following the recommendations of last year’s charter-review committee.

That committee made 17 recommendations. Council put three of them on the November 2012 ballot along with a modified proposal requiring redistricting after a “reasonable population change” without stating what that phrase means. All four amendments passed.

Council currently is going through the redistricting process that would take effect after the 2015 election.

When council rejected the 13 other proposed amendments last year, members said some recommendations could be done through changes to council rules and others would be on future ballots. To date, getting rid of the park and recreation commission is the only other amendment being considered by council.

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