City Council to P&R Commission: “Shove it”

I suppose that $20 million is as good a reason as any to fire this blog back up.

Although I missed Monday night’s “sometimes-acrimonious debate” about a proposed Parks & Recreation bond for this November’s ballot, I was deeply involved in what was definitely not what today’s N&R editorial describes as a “faulty process of bringing projects to a referendum“.

As chair of Greensboro’s P&R Commission, I formed a subcommittee back in, I believe it was, February to help prioritize the department’s Capitol Improvement Project (CIP) for the coming decade.  Our charge, as handed down from the city manager and budgeting departments, was to define P&R’s needs for possible inclusion in – and this is important – 2010 and 2012 – referenda.

The list of possible needs and wants presented by the P&R staff to our subcommittee was exhaustive and – all told – came in around $80M.  Our task was to whittle this down into priority-driven, bite-sized chunks.  Which we did.  And after each of two “whittlings”, the subcommittee’s work was presented to the entire Commission and voted upon.  Both passed, unanimously, and we forwarded them up the ladder for consideration by the manager’s office.

There was much discussion surrounding a new, indoor, competitive swimming pool during the subcommittee’s work.  Led by Greensboro Sports Commission head and P&R Commissioner Marc Bush, Marc made strong arguments for the benefits – both social and economic – of trying, once again, to get the public behind the $10M project.

Others, including myself, agreed that such a facility is important, but also argued that it was difficult to support such an expenditure when more basic needs were pressing.  I submitted that if the foundation to my house was crumbling, I would be thought of as somehow defective if I chose to spend money on a new Jacuzzi tub rather than fix my foundation.

In the end, a compromise was reached and we placed various projects in both the 2010 and 2012 bond buckets.  The $10M pool was a part of the 2010 proposal but it came with a caveat: over the next two years, we directed the staff to enter into an intensive public input process that would afford the issue a complete airing.  We also agreed that, in order to guage support and perhaps help with funding, the local swimming community should be asked to form a public/private partnership – ala the Greensboro Youth Soccer Association model – to perhaps shoulder some of the costs.

Commission members vocalized their committment to take a leadership role in championing the agreed-to CIPs over the coming months and years.  After all, we had plenty of time for all this.  We were talking about 2010 and 2012.  Or we thought we were.

Two weeks ago I received an email indicating that the city manager’s office had decided to go ahead and include a $20M bond for this year’s ballot.  This was a surprise to everyone – including the P&R staff.  Even though I had suggested during a previous P&R meeting that because our needs where so great in the area of facility re-investment, it would be a good idea to request the Manager’s office to give us a slot this year, I was told – in no uncertain terms – that this year was NOT our turn.  It was the Transportation Department’s turn at the ballot.

Emails were sent in an attempt to re-convene the P&R’s CIP subcommittee to mull over this new development, but in the end, things moved too quickly and we never got back together in advance of Director Bonnie Kuester’s presentation to Council.  The P&R staff was forced to hurriedly compile a list of needs totalling $20M to be included in November’s bond offering.  When the list was sent out to me, it included mostly the “foundation repair” stuff that was identified for 2010 inclusion. 

There was no mention of a swim center, and I was pleased about that, because our plan – as mentioned above – was to engage the public and build support for the project over a two year period.  And even at that, thought I, the pool would be a hard sell because it has been rejected twice before by the voters.  But at least we would have a shot at it if it was seen that P&R had done some serious planning, enlisted the support of the swimming community, and created a good case for such an expenditure.

So, imagine the surprise during Wednesday night’s P&R Commission meeting when the City Council’s 5-4 decision to include $10M for the pool was given to us.  One Commissioner questioned why the Council, who charged the Commission with prioritizing the CIP, would essentially ignore our work and tell us to “shove it”.  I somewhat concured and suggested that throwing out our prioritization could seriously undermine the Commission’s committment to help promote the bonds as we envisioned them.

I don’t know where this whole pool thing is headed, but I do know that some of our City Council is questioning the professionalism of Bonnie Kuester and her staff because they were not impressed with the staff’s presentation on the $20M bond proposal.  One thing I can tell you though:  Our P&R staff did what they were asked to do, namely, identify and plan the projects that might appear on 2010 and 2012 referenda.  They did that job professionally, diligently and thoroughly.  2008 was NEVER mentioned as a possibility.

No department should be expected to prepare and lay out the particulars of a $20M expenditure on a week’s notice.  Such expectations, and resulting criticisms, are unfair and reflect badly – not on the P&R Department – but on those leveling the criticisms.

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23 Comments

  1. Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Do you plan on saying this at the public hearing on July 16, 2008 at 7:00 pm?

    This needs to be said for all to hear.

  2. Doug Clark
    Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    David, with all due respect to the hard work and conscientious approach taken by P&R staff and commission members, what you describe here – i.e., two weeks’ notice that a $20 m parks bond would go on this year’s ballot – does indicate a faulty process. Not to mention the action by the council Monday.

  3. John Beaman
    Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    As a Parks and Recreation Commission member, I totally agree with Dave’s assessment of what has happened thus far. Essentially, the Council totally ignored the hard work by a lot of people to “do their thing”. We all agree that a swim facility is needed, but it has to be sold to the public who has rejected this, twice. If this priority remains the same after next week’s Council meeting, I hope the swim center’s inclusion does not torpedo the whole bond issue.

    Lastly, speaking as a citizen, I question the arrogance of 5 Council members who apparently think they know better than a lot of professionals and involved citizens who worked so hard on the list.

  4. Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Touche’, Doug…

    However, P&R Commission and Staff’s part in this was not faulty.

    The $20M for November was proposed to Kuester’s staff at the last minute by higher ups. And perhaps with the best interest of all in mind.

    But we thought we had 2 years to prepare… not 1 week.

  5. Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The City Council continues to ignore the members of the boards and commissions it appoints. This is clear across the number of boards including Zoning and now P&R.

    It’s no wonder people get discouraged by serving.

  6. Posted July 11, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    My guess the Council is reading this now, Keith. But yes, I’ll be there Wednesday.

  7. Don
    Posted July 11, 2008 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    David,

    With all due respect, the swimming center has been on many citizens’ minds for a very long time. The city council, parks and recreation department, and commission know of the conditions of the facilities constructed 50 years ago. They are aware of the growing participation by the children and adults in this activity as evidenced by the 2200 swimmers at this year’s city meet along with 5000 parents and relatives. The public is aware of the very apparent obesity and health issues we face. The city manager and several of the council members have been to Charlotte, Raleigh and even the very small townships such as Huntersville to realize what the citizens of these areas are expecting and receiving, and yet each time the need is brought up the council members, News and Record, and commission members want some explanation. Why are you not offering the same challenging questions of other projects?

    We made efforts to have a representative placed on Parks and Recreation Commission six months ago but there was no reply or interest. I think much could have been discussed regarding the need for this facility over the period, and you would not be in the position of feeling slighted by the Parks and Recreation Department. Where does the blindness start? The project has been defined, the community needs discussed and programs forwarded. We know the costs to develop a facility that addresses these needs. They are not extravagant by any city standards.

    The recent articles written about the success of the YMCA Bears and their inclusion in the Community Swimming Association exemplifies the receptiveness of the swim and health community to involve all. This is a community of citizens that wants to deliver a facility that will provide healthy programs to all whether it is learn to swim, senior citizen’s facing health issues, or just plain training and competition for youth and adults.

    The economic value as determined by generating revenues and taxes from small and large events should be enough to convince the remaining public that this is a “win” situation for all.

    So here we sit with each pointing to the other and wondering what a government, political official, or commission member needs to know or do, and the puzzle just does not fit due to information lacking, timing not right, and guessing where the politicians will fall. It does get messy, but the wishes of the citizens have to be recognized and forwarded.

    The timing is very good. The project is worthy. Let the citizens speak and vote.

    Thank you for taking on this issue, and spiriting the debate.

    Don

  8. Posted July 12, 2008 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Don.

    I voted for the swim center both times it was on the ballot in the past and also voted on the Commission to have it included in, what we thought was, the next P&R bond offering in ’10. So I get it… really I do.

    However, the general public – as evidenced by past referenda – obviously does not.

    We thought that the Center would have a better chance of passing with a carefully planned and executed campaign – so we set up a plan to do just that culminating in a 2010 bond.

    If the goal is to get the thing built, then I would think the swim community would want to take its time and build its case and support and not just throw the thing back up against the wall and hope that it sticks this time.

    What has changed in the voters’ minds since 2006? (Except, of course, that there will be a whole lot more of them – especially, I expect, Obama supporters – read liberal leaners who traditionally support ANY bond – coming to the polls this November?) If that is what is being counted on, it might be a winning strategy. But then again, maybe not.

  9. Don
    Posted July 12, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    David,

    The same swim community is behind this project as in the past, but membership has grown since 2006 and the constituency has broadened bringing in all communities, north, south, east and west. Facility needs are even greater.

    Please take a trip down to the City Meet Saturday at 4pm, but expect to take 30 minutes to find a parking space. It really would be helpful for all the city council to understand the enthusiasm and community involvement of the Community Swim Association. The CSA teams will make another significant contribution to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. The CSA board has endorsed the Parks and Recreation Bond. I can forward a copy of the letter if necessary. The VP and Meet Director of CSA is a former Parks and Recreation Commission member who forwarded this same discussion ten to fifteen years ago, but I guess the “time was not right.”

    Although some keep saying a new facility is a luxury and therefore does not warrant consideration at this time, we argue that it is way past due. The contribution this project will make to the physical health and economic vitality of the community justifies its cost. We define this project as a fundamental component of the city’s revitalization and continued growth.

    Regarding the supporters of this project, I have spoken to many and suspect that they come from all political persuasions, though we do not ask parents to provide their political lien or religious view when they join at the club level or a year round swim organization. I believe you can pull some of the voting history. It may surprise you where the support came, like North Greensboro and more conservative pockets. We know where we did not get the vote, and that was from the Afro-American community. Dena Hayes forwarded the same argument against the swim center as she did with the recent School Bond, “do not vote on this bond in spite of it being in the best interest of our children and community, because minority contractors do not get enough of the contracts.” Given the school bond support by her constituency, we now know that this argument does not hold water. We do support fairness with contractors and would expect many local contractors to participate regardless of race.

    The climate has changed immensely over the last two years because participation in swimming has become more diverse, locally and nationally. I reference this claim to the News and Record article last week concerning the YMCA Bears , and Cullen Jones’ track to the Olympics. Please pull up Cullen Jones website and all the featured articles about this incredible and very giving person. He is on a mission to bring about more “learn to swim” programs and just as important is the development of adequate facilities. The Olympics and Jones’ media coverage will have a positive influence on local voters.

    Penultimately, the News & Record’s past editorials and position on the last bond effort were lamentable, and did have a negative impact on the vote. Unfortunately, the editorial panel that took a stance against the pool bond was not well-informed and failed to understand the positive impact such a facility can have.

    Finally, many people have plans, numbers, costs, designs, and contacts. The planning process has been long term. It would have been nice to sit around and enjoy the luxury of planning and debate, but this has been going on for a very long time. We are very happy that certain city council members and parks and recreation members are willing to step up.

    We appreciate your previous support and hope that your disgruntlement with the process will not harm the current movement and completion of the project.

    Thanks for your concerns and efforts.

    Don G

  10. Posted July 12, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    David, glad to see you’re back. I had commented over at Ed’s that perhaps it would be best to drop the whole thing this year in view of all that happened. This was not handled well by either side, and the outcome Monday night demonstrates that.

    You responded by saying that the city was now legally bound to proceed with the bond. In this post, you suggested that the knowledge of Mitchell Johnson’s inclusion of P&R on this year’s bond came only recently, with minimal notice to concerned parties.
    In view of that fact, what happened legally to clinch the idea that the bond must be on this year’s ballot? How does that work, and in this case, when did the critical steps making it irreversible happen?

  11. Tom Phillips
    Posted July 13, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    David, Maybe this is the solution. http://www.triangleaquatics.org/AboutUs/

  12. EcH
    Posted July 13, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Tom, thanks for bringing to this forum that link. Within their ‘About Us’ is a key comment, “Privately funded through community support and donations”. Key word…PRIVATELY!

  13. Mike Barber
    Posted July 13, 2008 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    The following was emailed to me by Mike B. He had difficulties posting it himself – Hoggard

    Hi David-
    I tried twice to make a comment on your blog but was unsuccessful. I kept getting a “page not displayed” message when I hit “submit comment.”

    I have great appreciation for the time and effort members of our boards and commissions spend serving our community. I personally know most of, and have great respect for, the members of the Parks and Rec. Commission. Please know that I publicly thanked Bonnie Monday night for pulling the P&R information together in such a limited period of time. I apologize to you and the Parks and Rec. Commission for anything I have done to make you feel lessened in your role, and I also apologize for the process.

    From the outset our bond process has unfolded in a disorganized, unprofessional manner. This has been a rush job. When we finally met at the end of June to have a comprehensive discussion about the bonds, I believed the discussion was to be the content of the bonds based upon policy and philosophy, and our CIP information that we were provided by staff. At no time was my input framed in any other context. As an example, Staff brought approximately $400 million in transportation needs to council and that has been reduced to $134 million for bond purposes, subject to further changes and reductions based upon the public hearing. As many council members have expressed publicly, many of us did not know to expect bond recommendations beyond transportation.

    Specifically regarding the pool. The Parks and Rec. Commission has done an excellent job over the years making Greensboro equivalent, and more often superior, to similarly situated communities. Swimming seems to one area in which we are not able to compete for events regionally, or even combat the weather to have uninterrupted local events.

    I am always eager to cut City expenses. Therefore, when I support additional expense, particularly for non-essential services, I view it from a perspective of measured economic impact, “heads on beds”, etc.. I’m not saying that’s the right approach, but it’s the way I approach these issues.
    Despite all of this, many of the things which may make it to the ballot in November can be of value to our citizens. I again apologize.

    Please publish this on your blog as I am technologically deficient. Please include my mobile # 580-4241 for anyone who would like to call.

    On a personal note, I hope you, Jenny, and the kids are doing well. Congratulations on the incredible success of your business.

    Sincerely,
    Mike B.

  14. Paul
    Posted July 13, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Hogg,

    Thanks for bringing up this topic. I am a swim parent but totally agree that this should be a public/private partnership. There are many other deserving P&R projects. Perhaps $10M of the $20M could be earmarked for the competitive swim facility and the swim community agrees to raise the other $5M and work to help offset the continuing operational costs of such a facility. I have been to both the Huntersville and Cary facilities and Greensboro does need a similar facility. These are perfect examples of public/private partnerships which could work in our community and become a win/win for all.

    Don G.

    I think it is important to reach out to the YMCA team and parents. They are an outreach team but have an impressive parent base which is an extention of their year round GCY team. They are great group of folks. If this initiative survives to make the fall ballot, we will need the support of “all” of Greensboro voters. With the recent highlight of miniority swimmers and as you mentioned Olympian Cullen Jones, this community may prove to be the key to making this a successful initiative.

  15. Posted July 14, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Mike. Apology accepted

    In my opinion, and despite Don’s imploring above, we’d be better off waiting until 2010 on the swim center. That is if we want the thing to actually get built and not just wish and hope.

    Meanwhile, Lindsay Pool, Grimsley (indoor) pool and several other existing pools are, quite literally, crumbling. Perhaps some 2/3rd’s bond action on those. We are running out of Band-aids large enough to keep them functioning.

  16. Posted July 14, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    one of the strangest quotes from mike barber on the parks and recreation bond was that we need a indoor swimming facility in Greensboro and one of the reasons is that the kids work real hard for these meets and if there is lightning than it can get delayed or cancelled with 2 lightning strikes, it was around the 23 minute mark of July 7th special bond meeting.

    Correct me if I am wrong but even if you have a indoor swimming facility and there is a lightning strike even the indoor swim meets will be delayed or cancelled also. Just an observation from the bond meeting on July 7th

  17. Phil F
    Posted July 14, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    The City of Greensboro’s six city pools (outdoor pools Lindley, Windsor, Warnersville, and Peeler and indoor pools Grimsley HS and Smith HS) have been grossly under-funded for both operational and capital improvements for many years. Band-aids continue to be offered as “fixes” for major structural problems. The program offerings at the city pools have been cut back substantially in recent years due to budget constraints and the swim season now spans just nine weeks each summer. My chief concern is that should the city build the regional aquatic facility that is being proposed, is it willing to commit the amount of money it takes to operate the facility at full capacity twelve months out of the year? History indicates the contrary.

    The city should strongly consider improving and upgrading the facilities it already has as opposed to building a “Jacuzzi (in David’s words) in a house whose foundation is crumbling”. A study was done several years back made some concrete recommendations on improvements / enhancements that should be done at/to the area’s public pools. To my knowledge, only one recommendation has been fully realized — the replacement of the county-owned Bur-Mil swimming facility, which was under attended, outdated and functionally obselete, with the Bur-Mil Family Aquatic Center, which functions at or near capacity every day that it is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day and offers quality swimming instruction, a swim team, and pool parties all at a low cost to citizens.

    Strong consideration should be given to devoting the entire $20 mil. parks and recreation bond exclusively to aquatic facility construction and improvements — namely the construction of a large indoor swimming center AND in making designated additions/improvements to existing city pools? If the bond has a wide enough appeal (i.e., not concentrated on one particular interest within the swimming community or in one particular area of town) it might have a shot at passing. A full public-private partnership should _definitely_ be on the table to cover the design and construction costs of the aquatic center, in addition to the operational costs once functioning.

    Finally, I’d encourage anyone who has responded to this blog to visit Warnersville or Peeler Pool one day this summer to see how important these facilities are to communities within Greensboro. It would be a disservice to many citizens in our community if these facilities merely crumbled away.

  18. Phil F
    Posted July 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    David, I did not get your quote regarding the Jacuzzi tub exactly right in my post above (my apologies!) but the intent of what I wrote remains the same — why invest something new and great when the other components are falling apart?

  19. Paul
    Posted July 14, 2008 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Keith,

    I am not sure of that exact quote from Mike B. but yes, when lightening occurs swimmers are asked to get out of the water even at an indoor pool. These creates a long frustrating wait for the swimmers and parents but it is necessary for safety reasons.

  20. Don G
    Posted July 15, 2008 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Regarding the lightening and storms issue on the operations of pools and events, people are required to vacate the pool when there is lightening regardless of indoor or outdoor. Indoor facilites are grounded and may not pose as great a threat as a strike to an outside facility deck.

    Pool activites are interupted by heavy rains and wind. Swim competition can be conducted in light rain, but heavy rains create a problem for officals, electronics, parents, and participants. Heavy wind as we saw last Tuesday does pose a serious threat to outside swim center events. Heavy winds may have created problems with all the tents and awnings used over the last three events held at Lindley. Those events include the State Games, Eastern Regional, and the City Meet.

  21. Don
    Posted July 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    David,

    Thank you for your gracious presentation before the city council. Apparent is your concern and heart for Greensboro. We welcome your guidance and we offer our support to all Parks and Recreation projects. We welcome the involvement of the P & R Commission in helping us forward the Parks and Recreation bond for 2007. We will need much direction and support as the bond vote approaches.

    Don Gilchrist

  22. David Hoggard
    Posted July 17, 2008 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    “Gracious presentation”, you say?? I thought it was simply informative… but I’ll take “gracious” any time. You are welcome.

    There’s a lot of work to be done, I hope you guys are up to the task and don’t depend on Ted to do it all this time around.

  23. mick
    Posted July 18, 2008 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Ted may be the point man and the face of swimming but he NEVER “did it all”. There were and are many.

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] will the full body of the Greensboro P&R Commission be further miffed because of this vote.  Naw, I doubt it.  We recognized the need for such a facility and [...]

  2. [...] just now getting around to Hoggard’s July 11 post on the Parks and Recreation Commission’s hard work on the $10 million aquatic center, which [...]

  3. [...] is, the City Council pretty much told us to “shove it” and decided all by themselves to put a P&R bond up for voters this year instead of 2010 [...]

  4. [...] It was your City Council who did the deed to which you are referring.  And by placing it on the ballot, they went AGAINST the recommendations of the Commission. [...]