Bath Council pulls out of Parks & Rec
Despite a plea from Parks & Rec director Bruce Beadenkopf, the Bath town council decided last week to sever its ties to the local recreation board.
Council member Jim Slough and Mayor Susan Webster were most vocal about the break, which followed Slough’s resignation from the parks group in August. Webster also served on the board for more than a decade.
Parks & Rec was formed with three board members each from the Town of
Bath, Morgan County Board of Education and the county. Webster said the Town of Paw Paw was invited to join the group, but opted out.
The county parks group oversees operations at Biser Street’s basketball and tennis courts, the new skateboard park on College Street, the ballfield complex on U.S. 522 and the new North Berkeley Community Park, in addition to the roadside park at Spruce Pine Hollow.
Slough had told council he had grave concerns about the board’s lack of sensitivity to the legal consequences of their decisions, and said he thought the town could get drawn into a lawsuit if Parks & Rec were sued.
“We hope you don’t decide to pull out,” Beadenkopf said when he appeared at the September 21 council meeting.
He said there is a perception that town business people “don’t like kids walking around town” and said it would look bad if the town pulled out of the parks board.
“It looks like the town doesn’t like kids at all,” said Beadenkopf.
“It’s not that at all,” Slough replied.
“The board is not being managed in a way that protects those involved,” he said.
Councilman David Crosby, chair of the town’s Finance Council, repeatedly urged council to check on the status of their liability insurance to make sure the town wouldn’t be legally liable if the parks organization was sued.
“The question of liability needs to be addressed as soon as possible,” said Crosby.
County asked to intervene
Slough asked council to send a letter to the County Commission asking that the parks board be restructured to exclude the requirement of town participation.
“Recently, we have observed that the non-elected Parks & Recreation Board is continuing to evolve into an autonomous organization, pursuing independent actions and policies sometimes over the objections of the County and Town,” the town’s letter said.
“We cannot fault the fine volunteer work contributed by P & R Board Members,” the letter said.
It went on to question the board’s “informal approach” to management, given that the board manages “large public assets.”
Council members were unanimous in their support of the letter and starting the process of breaking away from the parks group.
County resident and attorney Larry Schultz told council he was surprised no one had mentioned the county’s new soccer field during discussions at the September 21 meeting.
He had been part of a group of parents that picked metal and glass debris out of the field, which has been closed to youth because of safety concerns.
Schultz cast doubt on the Parks & Rec’s suggestion that planting thicker grass on the field would protect young players from injuring themselves on debris embedded in the soil.
“Forget about the liability. Some kid is going to get hurt and no lawsuit is going to fix that,” Schultz said.
During their meeting on Thursday, September 23, county officials accepted the town’s resignation from the board, and agreed to reorganize the Parks & Rec board of directors without town representation.
Commissioner Stacy Dugan said Tuesday that she is working on a draft of new bylaws, and will present that to the full commission at a future meeting for discussion and approval. Dugan is the commission’s representative on Parks & Rec.