Nearly three hours of "healthy dialogue" has opened the way to ensuring the continued work of the Cabot Parks and Recreation Commission, Mayor Bill Cypert said at the joint committees meeting Monday. "We are going to continue with this commission, right now. We are going to discuss these issues and come to a consensus … I can assure you; we come to one accord and we’re done," he said.
The Cabot District Courtroom was filled to capacity for the discussion about the status of the Parks and Recreation Commission. The matter was placed on the agenda after Cypert, citing financial and organizational shortcomings, called for consideration of disbanding the commission. The call was made during the Oct. 15 city council meeting.
The joint meeting is a combination of the Public Works, finance and police and fire committees. Members Jon Moore, Angie Hoschouer, Ryan Flynn, Ann Gilliam, Rick Prentice and Ed Long attended, as did Cypert.
After dispensing the regular business of the committees, Gilliam, chairman of the personnel committee, opened the floor first to Cypert, then committee members, followed by Parks and Recreation Commissioners and lastly to the general gallery of observers. The public comments lasted more than two hours.
Gilliam limited the time for each person to three minutes, though most speakers used more time. "Just remember that we are all adults here," she said.
Cypert read a prepared, two-page statement, recognizing the commissioners as, "honorable citizens with interest in the Parks and Recreation system and have displayed an interest in serving on the commission."
He added that he and the city council had not made clear to prospective commissioners what is expected of the commission and individual members.
Future commission members would be better informed, with "expectations understood on the front end," Cypert said.
Discussion was not to be about "commissioners" but the commission, itself, Cypert said. Concerns about the effectiveness of the commission did not develop recently, but have been building for several years, creating questions about having a commission in charge of the parks and recreation system, he said.
Cabot is one of three cities, of the 26 largest in the state, to have a Parks and Recreation Commission, Cypert said. Most parks programs are run by the city, a few are operated by a combination of the city and commission, he said.
Since all parks and recreation property and equipment belongs to the city, and most of the funding for the commission comes from the city, the city council has a right to "an interactive relationship and input with and to the Commission and definitely has a responsibility … to make sure Parks and Recreation is run soundly and appropriately," he said.
Accessibility of the commissioners is critical, Cypert said. The recent adding of commissioners’ email addresses to the Web site is good, and he suggested adding telephone numbers, too.
Attendance at commission meetings is sporadic, Cypert noted. Since January 2010 there has been only one meeting attended by all seven commissioners; 2010 saw at least four meetings with no quorum, in 2011 there were two meetings without a quorum. Attendance in 2012 has been 58 percent, he said.
The commission, itself, set a requirement that commissioners maintain 75 percent annual attendance rate; one commissioner has missed six meetings, two others have already missed three meetings, Cypert said.
Later in the meeting, Parks and Recreation Commission chairman Maggie Cope replied that there was only one meeting when there was no quorum.
Cypert maintained that payroll issues, although administered by the city, were based on information provided by parks and recreation. "The city had no information as to Parks and Recreation … employees’ status, whether they are part, full time, including benefits and what their retirement is supposed to be," he said.
While problems with the Community Center building have been blamed on design and construction flaws, they were caused by lack of maintenance to the air handling and pressure management system for the pool complex, Cypert said.
Failing to have a contract for maintenance of the "highly technical system" was a significant factor to the damage to the building, Cypert said. Costs of repairs could approach $750,000, he said.
Cypert said it would not be appropriate for any formal action about the commission to be taken immediately. It remains plausible for the commission to be allowed, "to raise the bar."
Remarks by committee members centered mainly on accessibility of the commissioners, making people call council members with complaints.
Moore said he has most of the calls he receives are about Parks and Recreation and conditions at the parks.
Hoschouer said she liked building a consensus, and said she appreciate commissioners’ desires to remain on the commission and changes being considered. However, there remain major concerns to be resolved, she said.
Flynn said he was optimistic about the outcome of discussions. He said he understands the conditions, having served on both the commission and the council.
Prentice said that in the four years he has served on the city council the only complaints he gets are about park facilities, lack of maintenance and a lack of organization.
Prentice remarked that responsibility to ensure parks and recreation is "going in the right direction," falls to the elected officials. If a vote were to be taken "at this point" his would be to end the commission, Prentice said.
The responsibility for maintenance is not in an individual, but in the commission, and ultimately the council, Prentice said. "My response, right now, is if we maintain this the way it is? Get going," he said.
Long said the concerns he hears are about lack of maintenance, that once something is built, interest in it declines.
A lack of maintenance, and lack of response to complaints, Long said. "And then they start calling [aldermen]," he said.
Davis said everything he would say had already been said. "I’d like to listen and see what the response is," he said. "I get the same calls, too. There is no point in repeating what has been said already," Davis said.
Cope said that with her being on the commission since 2011, she could not address all the concerns brought up. However, about the complaints, "You never told us," she said.
When council members have attended commission meetings, the comments were, "You are on the right track; You are doing the right thing, Things are going good, or I like where this is going," Cope said. Now, the problems have accumulated, she said.
"If you have problems, you come to us and not let them build up," Cope said. When complaints are made, they need to be referred to the commissioners, she said.
"You have a lot of other things to be concerned with, and you might not know the whole story," Cope said.
Also, the concept that Parks and Recreation should be self-sufficient with funding is mistaken, Cope said. To make that happen would require increasing fees and charges to the point that they would be unaffordable, she said.
Commissioner Eric Park said council members are unaware of the amount of calls and complaints fielded by the commissioners. "You get 10? We get hundreds," he remarked.
There is poor communication with the commission, Park said. "The mayor picks us, you approve us, and then you have closed-door meetings about the commission," he said. "That makes no sense."
Park said he is likely the commissioner with the low attendance. A business-owner, he is out of town a great amount of the time, he said.
If attending commission meetings were all that is needed, it would not be difficult, Park said. "But there is so much more involved in it," he said.
Tarrant replied to the concerns about the condition of the Community Center building and the operation of the pool system. The employees were given about 20 minutes of instruction when the company that installed the system turned it over to the department, Tarrant said. The operation since has followed all the instructions they were given, he said.
During a number of times that the company responded to repair calls, there was no mention of any concerns of the operation, Tarrant said. It was only until the recent evaluation by an outside company that the problems were made known, he said.
Tarrant also said he prided the department in its response to complaints. "We take care of them as soon as we know about them," he said.
Comments made by about a dozen members of the audience also supported the commission.
"If compliments are what is expected, it is not going to happen," Rose Easter, president of the Cabot Softball Association, remarked. "When was the last time somebody patted you on the back and said ‘Good job?’" she asked.
It should be no surprise that aldermen hear only complaints, Easter said.
Other remarks supported the commission and employees.
"We need to keep this," said Johnny White, former school district athletic director. "Larry [Tarrant, parks and recreation director] is doing great. This commission is great," he said. While there are problems, "We need to keep this commission together," he said.
"People love to come to Cabot," White said of state tournaments he has worked.
Commission members were given a list of expectations "compiled by me and the City Council," Cypert said.
The list would be discussed at the Nov. 20 commission meeting, Cypert said. "If we come to a consensus that, yes, that is a good expectation, that is what we will model it. If we don’t, then we will dialogue until we get it changed to make everyone happy," he said.