Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 26, 2013

Discord on GT parks and rec board

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It’s not all fun and games on the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Commission these days.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner William Dorrier called for fellow board member Christine Maxbauer to resign from her post as board president during a public meeting late last week. Dorrier accused Maxbauer, a Grand Traverse County commissioner, of repeatedly undercutting the efforts and will of the parks and recreation board from her position on the county’s governing body.

“I want to suggest that it’s not appropriate for you to be the president of this commission,” Dorrier said to Maxbauer during the meeting. “And I think the nice thing to do would be for you to step down and let the vice president take over. I don’t think you advocate for us. I don’t think you support what’s going on.”

Maxbauer said this week that Dorrier’s request was unwarranted.

“I’ve been a strong supporter of parks since before I was a commissioner,” she said.

Dorrier pointed to a specific county commission meeting to support his allegations. Parks and Recreation Department Director Jason Jones, following direction from the parks board, went before the county commission Sept. 11. He asked for permission to apply for a grant to help fund county recreational programming staff.

Maxbauer made a motion to deny Jones’ request. The motion passed.

Dorrier said it creates an ethical problem for Maxbauer to serve as president of the parks board and the board’s representative to the county commission.

”Just because she’s a county commissioner she can negate all our work?” Dorrier said. “Because that’s what she’s doing.”

The grant application wasn’t the first time parks board members chastised Maxbauer for not presenting their position to the county board.

During a debate in 2010, Maxbauer’s report to the county board spoke in favor of returning operation of the baseball program at the Civic Center to the American Legion. Maxbauer failed to tell the county board that the parks and recreation commission voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the program under county oversight.

But Maxbauer said she’s fought multiple times over the years to support parks and recreation in the county, including when she successfully lobbied to bring in a consultant to improve operational efficiency at Easling Pool.

Maxbauer added that county commissioners need to think about the budget as a whole and prioritize when considering issues like creating a recreational planning staff.

”We as county board members need to take a big-picture approach,” Maxbauer said. “Therefore at times we will disagree with advisory boards, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The discussion at last week’s meeting highlighted two differing opinions on the role of the county’s parks department.

The county for years has owned recreational facilities and partnered with outside organizations to provide programming, Maxbauer said.

But Dorrier said the county should explore funding its own programming. The practice could actually bring in revenue if done correctly.

”We certainly could experiment with some programming in our parks and recreation commission,” he said.

Last week’s meeting also raised a question about who sets the agenda for the parks department and Jones.

”Is it this commission or is it (county Administrator) Dave Benda and the county board?” parks board member Kevin McElyea said during the meeting.

Benda said the answer to the question is complicated, all the more so because of differing opinions between the boards -- and even among members on each board.

”That’s really between those two boards, and I don’t know the answer,” he said.