Granting access to publicly owned facilities can be a tricky business. It has to be done equitably and with the best interests — whatever those are — of taxpayers in mind.
Traverse City charges a fee (some think it’s not nearly enough) to rent out the Open Space for festivals and gatherings; it charges skiers, city residents included, to use the Hickory Hills ski area. Groups have to pay to use the Grand Traverse County-owned Howe Arena skating rink and rent the Civic Center swimming pool.
In 2010 the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission created a controversy when Parks and Recreation Director Jason Jones — after the country had had trouble with American Legion leadership — decided the parks board should manage programs instead of just managing parks.
The county took plenty of heat for that move, and a year later the county board stepped in and asked American Legion to resume youth baseball at the Civic Center.
The Parks and Rec board appears to be back at it. It recently adopted a new field rental policy that has baseball and softball backers again worried.
Jones said several organizations had asked about renting the county’s Civic Center baseball and softball fields for weekend softball tournaments next summer, so he proposed a new policy that would allow groups to reserve Civic Center fields for the upcoming year on a “first-come, first-served basis.” Signups were to begin in this month. Reservations would require a 25 percent non-refundable deposit.
American Legion supporters and some parks board members said they worried other groups would reserve field space before the American Legion and the YMCA — which runs adult softball leagues there — could decide on dates, and protested the change.
At a recent meeting Parks and Rec board members addressed American Legion concerns, but some Legion supporters — remembering 2010 — aren’t sure all is well.
And with good reason. Once again, Parks and Rec has it backwards. Instead of giving priority in the use of valued public assets to a program that gives up to 600 local kids a chance to play baseball, the commission put newcomers on an equal footing. That may be by the book, but it’s totally tone deaf in terms of how the public wants its property used. Local kids count way more than softball tournaments.
This is easy to resolve. Junk the new policy and tell other groups that when local baseball and softball schedules are created, they’re welcome to find days that work for them and schedule a field. Just like always.
Why is the tail wagging the dog? Again?