Rob Douglas: Elephant emerges from Rita Valentine Park
June 12, 2014
At the culmination of an emotional 13-minute diatribe questioning the integrity of a previous Steamboat Springs City Council for having "squandered" the 2009 Rita Valentine Park Conceptual Design plan, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Jack Trautman delivered an ultimatum to the current City Council at Wednesday's commission meeting about the park's future.
"We do all this hard work (resulting in the 2009 plan), we're volunteers, we're trying to get the best inputs of the community, we go to the City Council and something mysterious happened. And I'm not going to speculate on what that is, I'm just telling you facts right now. That's all I want to talk about is facts," Trautman said. "We take all the arrows in the chest from these passionate people telling us their inputs and I'm frankly tired of taking the arrows in the back from the City Council when we present a logical plan that meets the needs of the community. So City Council, if you don't like what I'm saying, fire me, I've got better things to do. But if you want us to deliver a plan that meets the needs of the community, then I suggest you take this seriously because we take this work seriously."
Almost three hours later, after extensive public comment and discussion — including comments from current council members Sonja Macys and Scott Ford, and former council member Meg Bentley (who, along with former council member Cari Hermacinski, Trautman singled out for criticism during his opening remarks) — the commission voted to recommend that the council reject the 2009 plan and allow the commission to draft a new plan.
In other words, once the sound and fury subsided, the commission came to the same conclusion as the council that was the object of Trautman's scorn — the 2009 plan is unworkable and should be shelved.
As Trautman himself finally concurred about the 2009 plan, "it's a red herring, it's got stuff in there that makes everybody's blood boil in one direction or another. What we need to do, I think, is say please forget that because all it does is divide people. It doesn't bring people together."
So if the council accepts the commission's recommendation, Rita Valentine Park is headed back to the drawing board. Hopefully, this time the commission will resist the temptation to satisfy every recreational activity constituency and instead draft a realistic plan that comports with the unique nature of Rita Valentine Park and the city's fiscal constraints.
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And it's those constraints — the elephant lurking behind every capital improvement discussion in Steamboat — that emerged at the very end of the meeting when commissioner Doug Tumminello suggested the commission investigate the creation of a parks and recreation district tax.
"One thing that we had talked about, at least informally, and at the last session, and comments that we've been hearing from the public, all regard the creation of a special district for parks and rec," Tumminello said. "And what I would like to see is that we devote an upcoming work session to learning more about that topic. And I think that it's a topic that may require more than one work session to get through, but I think I'd like that to be a focus, as well."
In response, Steamboat Springs Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services John Overstreet offered:
"What I can do is invite another parks and recreation director from a district to come to a work session if that would be OK with you guys. And it's funny that you brought it up, because at last night's Howelsen Park master plan meeting, and we had a focus group, is that the parks and rec district came up as one of those things to look at funding as a system-wide source. So I would be happy to contact others throughout the state to see if we can get one here for you."
Arguably, while the day may come that residents of Steamboat are asked to vote for a new tax to fund parks and recreational activities, the decision to investigate such a consequential change in the city's tax policy should be initiated by the City Council, not the Parks and Recreation Commission.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @RobDouglas3