July 18, 2024

Council stands by park board decision

Accusations were flying as the Creston City Council approved the third and final reading of revisions to the parks and recreation board ordinance Tuesday night. Passing with a 5-2 vote, only councilmembers Josh Thompson and Jen Worisek voted against the revisions.

The changes add two more members to the board and make members appointed by the council rather than voted by the community. Other changes to the ordinance include clarifying duties of the board.

The council has been working on this ordinance since initial discussions on Feb. 20. Since then, the ordinance revisions had gone on and off the agenda as the council made changes as requested by park board members.

Board members and community members continued to argue against the changes, with six people speaking against the changes at public forum. Many were against making board positions appointments rather than elected positions.

“I get to vote for who I want for mayor, who I want for my city council representative and even the president of the United States. Now you want to take away the public vote of who they want for the park and rec board member,” Mary Jo Borcherding said. “When you take away the vote from the people of this community, you’re taking away their voice.”

Soon-to-be Creston resident Kathy Kessler Spencer agreed, saying the she’s satisfied with all the park board has done so far.

Board member John Kawa said ordinance changes were due to the council wanting more power.

John Kawa

“The council has all the authority. We can not spend a dime of the money we raise without the council’s approval. How much authority do you want?” Kawa said. “Before this council, other councils would say thank you and ask us how they could help. This council seems to me to want all the power and want to take over the park and rec now that the park and rec has turned into the coolest thing Creston has.”

However, the newest of the park board members, Katie Turner, spoke in favor of the ordinance changes, specifically regarding how board members are chosen.

Katie Turner

“I was voted by the public in an election in which I ran unopposed,” Turner said. “Since 1999, there have been zero park and rec board members running against an opponent.”

She also said that, since board members are not paid, there is no damage to the city in adding two more to the board.

“The most important is moving the board from three to five,” Turner said. “[It] would give the community more variety of people to reach out to if there are park and rec concerns. In addition, a board of five brings much better balance, it brings the checks and balance and it also is great when there’s the absence of a member.”

Turner said there needed to be a shift in mind for board members, especially after some of the conversations she has witnessed since becoming a board member in January.

“In my first month of board meetings, I heard the words ‘the idiots upstairs’ referencing you, our city council members, and mayor, of which you’re also elected by the people,” Turner said. “The saying ‘if that little girl bitch thinks she can control me, she’s wrong,’ came from Mr. Kawa, of which was directed to one of our elected councilmembers. There’s no room for that in a good board and I am stepping down from the parks and rec until five members are voted to be on the board.”

When it came time for the council to discuss the ordinance revisions, councilmembers Kiki Scarberry and Jocelyn Blazek, both of whom have worked on the revisions, read statements.

Scarberry referenced the situation from last summer, in which there was uproar regarding food trucks in Creston parks.

“The board’s misconception of its independence was notably illustrated last year, particularly regarding food trucks,” Scarberry said. “During the meeting when I emphasized the need for the board to align with community wishes, John Kawa’s response was clear. He said ‘It’s going to stay the way it is, it’s always been. We don’t want it to change, it ain’t going to change at the park.’”

She explained this went directly against the community’s wants, according to a survey taken by 1,722 people, 75% of whom live in Creston. “Astonishingly, 98% supported allowing food trucks in Creston parks. This data unequivocally reflects community desires.”

Scarberry said she thought changes to the board had to be made due to board conduct she had witnessed.

“In my tenure representing the city council on the park and rec board, I have witnessed bullying, disrespect and unauthorized influence with board members leveraging their positions to impose personal views on park usage. Such conduct has been unacceptable, and I believe immediate action by council is crucial,” Scarberry said. “My mission is to enhance our community, not accept mediocrity. We can and must do better.”

Blazek’s statement followed a similar vein, though she focused more on changes to the amount of board members and how they are chosen.

Blazek

“I personally do not see any instance in which I would be in favor of a three-person board,” Blazek said. “For one, it is problematic in a legal standpoint, as two is a quorum, and any time two board members are in the same place, we are potentially in violation of Iowa’s open meeting laws. Second, it only takes two votes to pass a measure and it makes the possibility of bullying or ganging up on the third member too easy.”

Blazek said that while she understands why some may want the board positions to stay with a vote, appointments make more sense.

“I personally feel the election process is extremely intimidating and may be a factor in turning people from running,” Blazek said. “We have not had a contested park and rec seat in the last 20 years, to my knowledge, and I would like to at least try an appointment to see if that makes any sort of difference.” Additionally, it would keep the board in line with other boards under the council and expedite bringing the board from three members to five members.

Blazek said she would have considered keeping with elections had this concern been brought up sooner. However, with the board revisions being on the agenda at eight previous meetings, and with this concern only being brought up at the last meeting, she would stick to the proposed revisions.

“So there have been multiple opportunities for the community to come speak against this, and yet we didn’t hear a single word about opposition until two weeks ago,” Blazek said. “We’re trying to do the best on the floor with what we have, and honestly, at this point, asking us to go back to the board again feels like nothing but a stall tactic.”

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.