The messy business of managing access to public parks
TC parks policy under review
Last week, The Ticker highlighted the current Parks and Public Land Use policy (T) rewrite taking place under the auspices of a 3 member City Commission ad hoc committee. MyWHaT also flagged it for readers attention two weeks ago when the draft went out for public review. Public comments to the City Commission are requested by October 8th, when the policy is on their agenda for a study session.
The City Commissioners and staff that worked on this current policy should be applauded for trying. The current policy needs simplifying, needs a fee structure, and needs a way to address new opportunities in a controlled, but inclusive manner. However, there are real concerns with this proposed policy (Scribd).
Process wise, the stated intent of removing politics (RE) from the decision-making process of what occurs on public space is in reality an attempt to solidify current politics into a policy for years to come. Done intentionally or not, that is the result of policy creation. As such, the Parks and Recreation Commission needed to be included in this latest drafting as more than an invited “interested party” along side event promoters and others who have personal interests in the policy.
As the current P&R chairperson, I did attend ad hoc meetings and voiced my personal concerns when possible, but one person’s voice isn’t a replacement for a voice of the full volunteer commission. The park commissioners are appointed to an advisory capacity to “make recommendations to the City Commissioner on matters relating to the operation, development and planning of parks, recreation and cemetery services, facilities and programs” (P&R Charter). When they aren’t included in important decisions, it makes a mockery of the City Charter.
On my request, the Parks and Recreation Commission will be reviewing the draft policy this Thursday night at our monthly meeting (Agenda). Whether or not their recommendation makes it through the chain of command is anyone’s guess.
Process aside, this email sent to me by a reader highlights a few of them (emphasis added):
Here are a few thoughts I have after reading through the policy.
Many aspects of the policy are open-ended and left to the discretion of the City Clerk. This could easily lead to preferential treatment for some events and roadblocks to other events. The policy is packed full of vague statements that leave too much room for interpretation like, “to be determined by the City Clerk” and “there shall be a suitable amount of time between two scheduled events” and “applications will be processed promptly” and “in all cases the City Clerk will be given the discretion to adjust the fees if there is a mathematical basis for fee adjustment”…and many more that you’ll likely find when you read it.
What events will Traverse City lose and what events will never be able to establish themselves in Traverse City due to the new policy?
Does it best serve our City to put so many decisions into the hands of one person instead of into the capacity of a committee like our current parks and recreation commission or an events sub-committee?
Does this policy help Traverse City move forward or does it give preferential treatment to historical events in a manner that could impede future growth?
Why does this policy seek to delegate to the city manager the “authority to establish individual Park Guidelines” and determine which Parks are eligible for high impact events and which parks are eligible for other categories of Events.” Shouldn’t this extremely important task be determined by more than one individual? Don’t we have a Parks and Recreation Commission? Shouldn’t they be involved in these guidelines?
Good questions and not the first time questions like them have been raised.
As I said in The Ticker piece, this new Parks and Public Land Use policy is even more complicated and restrictive than the policy still under effect. That may actually be the goal of some people, but, personally, I don’t see a consensus in the City whether or not we have too many events in our parks. As a parks commissioner, I hear a very mixed response from people.
One aspect of the policy that has repeatedly been raised and ignored, is the placement of the two largest events directly into the policy. There is no question that the National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival have a special place in Traverse City. In their unique ways they are positive aspects to the City and deserve special consideration. I’ll repeat, they deserve some special considerations due to their size and unique value in Traverse City.
That said, there are real concerns of having two private organizations specifically called out in policy. If the City of Traverse City was a full partner with them, I could possibly see it, but they are and will continue to be independent organizations operating on public spaces. That is by definition political and needs to be open to public review as times and populations change. The contracts the NCF and TCFF make with the City Manager should be enough to address specific agreements and exemptions considered and renewed from time to time through a public body and process offered by a parks commission and a city commission.
By giving up authority on public land to private organizations, non-profit or not, the City is allowing those bodies to determine what may or may not happen on public lands. That isn’t for them to decide. Future opportunities in our parkland are in the public interest and as such political process is needed, however messy and uncomfortable that may be for some people.
I agree with those that err on the side of saying Yes to opportunities that get more people using our public spaces. Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it well in The Ticker, “I don’t want to turn away anyone with a great idea. It’s important to recognize parks as an economic resource, which means encouraging festivals and events where possible.”
The draft policy will be reviewed by the City Commission on Oct. 8th at 7 p.m. at the Governmental Center. The City would like to hear your opinion before that meeting. You can email those comments to the City Commissioners and to the City Clerk: email@example.com
If you’d like to assist the parks and recreation commission with their recommendation, we meet at 6:30 pm on the 2nd floor of the Governmental Center Thursday October 4th.
Introduction and Draft of Policy