October 4, 2016 11:06:57 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Monday, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors met with city of Columbus and members of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority to dig deep into the issues facing the parks system. They put aside personal grudges, assumptions and suspicions to focus with laser-beam intensity on providing the best parks system possible without regard to where residents live, the color of their skin or their economic status.
The spirit of cooperation permeated the meeting room and all parties left encouraged that real progress had been made.
Then Harry Sanders and Marty Turner sang a medley of show tunes, Robert Smith performed an interpretive dance to "Moon River," and Bill Brigham read a passage from "50 Shades of Grey."
OK. Some of that stuff didn't happen Monday.
In fact, none of it did.
Monday's meeting was a farce, a dog-and-pony show designed to take some pressure off the supervisors for their arbitrary decision to end the inter-local agreement between the county and the city and form its own parks system, a park system that is likely to be separate and unequal, given the financial landscapes of the two governments.
Oh, there were some ambiguous, half-hearted talk during the meeting about how things must change "if" the county decides not to follow through on its stated intention of ending its partnership with the city after the legally-mandated one year waiting period expires next September.
But there is little question that the supervisors are determined to make the split.
Sanders, as board president, has been plotting this departure for months now. His argument: There are no playing fields in the county and that the county pays a disproportionate amount of the costs for the CLRA and its programs.
Sanders is right where funding is concerned, but I suspect not in the way he imagines. Sanders makes a show of noting that two-thirds of the county's population resides outside the city limits. Given that, why should the one-third who live in the city limits be asked to pay half the costs? When viewed that way, the city is probably paying more than its fair share. Thanks for pointing that out, Harry.
Sanders has other criticisms, of course. He says the CLRA has done a poor job in keeping its facilities busy with activity. Too many parks, Sanders insists, are sitting idle.
There is, also, a deep, abiding mistrust between Sanders and Mayor Smith.
All Smith and the city want from the county, Sanders suggested, is the county's money, of which there will be considerably more in the coming years.
So the issue is pretty simple, from Sanders' point of view. He sees no benefit to the county from a continued agreement with the city. The county can build and operate its own park system and leave the city to tend to the parks it has.
It's a mistake. In fact, it is a colossal mistake.
Sanders, of course, is unrelenting.
That is why I am most disappointed in Bill Brigham's attitude in this.
Monday, Brigham sought to argue the case for separate parks by saying that a separate parks system would actually work better for the city because "ownership produces results."
You know what also produces results? Money.
Brigham is a retired banker. He should know this. To suggest that stripping the current parks system of more than half of its funding is going to make those parks better is patently absurd.
I still hold out hope Brigham will have a change of heart, as good men often do. It is a mistake that will be perpetuated for generations to come. And since it is likely that the decision will ultimately hinge on Brigham's vote, he will have the "ownership" he speaks of -- and the burden that comes with it.
As it stands, in a few years the county will have built its own park system, perhaps relying to some extent on "pay to play," fees, never mind that taxpayers are already paying. At least, that keeps the undesirables out of the parks, I suppose.
So we will have redundant parks systems: One starved for funding, the other the exclusive domain for those who can afford to pay extra.
The line will have been drawn along socio-economic status.
Does the board of supervisors really want to leave that as its legacy?
Apparently, it does.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]