July 29, 2016 10:23:46 AM
Two of the best decisions made during this term of the Board of Aldermen had to do with the city's parks. The results of one of those decisions was completed and adopted this week. It was a master plan prepared by a consulting group hired to look at Starkville's park properties. This is the first master plan ever devoted solely to the park system.
Starkville has gone for years with a hands-off approach to its parks. The Park Commission was an autonomous group and day-to-day workings were technically outside the reach of the Board of Aldermen.
It took two terms and a financial crisis, but the Mayor was finally convinced not to veto a change that transfers responsibility for the parks from an appointed park commission to the elected board of aldermen. It was the right thing to do.
Before moving forward, they needed an evaluation of the park system by a disinterested, though experienced, third party.
It's not unreasonable to question spending good money on a report that you either can't or won't implement, but without knowing the lay of the land you really don't know what you can or can't afford to do.
Despite my skepticism from reading too many generic, recycled assessments from lazy consultants, I was impressed. This report was different; It provides good information and strong, relevant recommendations.
The consultants conducted multiple citizen interaction groups and studied both property and facilities. They obviously visited the sites and were conversant in the problems evident from having been there.
Too often it is difficult to get adequate participation from constituents until right up to the time some decision is about to be made. At that point everyone comes running from their comfortable corners to decry the decisions as being premature and not done with enough stakeholder input.
The decision of what you want from your government is mostly left to those who show up to give feedback. It's like not voting. You are complicit in the outcome by leaving the decision to others.
And so it was with the results of those surveys and questionnaires. Does it tell the whole story, of course not, but it tells the story resulting from those who participated.
There were three citizen input meetings. The attendance was estimated at a total of around 175. Not a terrible turnout, but not fully representative either.
So what do we do with that information? The consultants have done the job we asked them to do. But before we embrace the report and begin to plan and act on those recommendations, we should ask if that is where the inquiry needs to end.
The city must meet the needs of the community as a whole. Though the consultant had no choice but to pull from the feedback they received, the Board of Aldermen are not so constrained.
I recently learned of a similar park study done in Houston, Texas, whose outcome was skewed based on geography. That begs the question regarding our study: Does it address the needs of our entire community?
This is too important a topic for us to stop asking questions. Now is the time for the aldermen of Wards 6 and 7 to have a town meeting or somehow engage the residents in their respective wards.
If changes and plans are going to be made and adopted for J. L. King Park then questions should be asked and answered by those who will be using it the most.
The Board of Aldermen has adopted that master plan as presented. It wouldn't hurt to ask for more feedback from the part of the community closest to the park.
The aldermen can start to earn their new pay raise by making the extra effort of reaching out to the minority community before implementing a plan that may not meet its needs and expectations.
Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address is [email protected]
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