“What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
– Ebenezer Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
Newark council member Doug Anderson began a recent budget meeting with a prayer in which he asked God to grant wisdom in all the council’s decisions.
At that meeting the majority of the council decided they couldn’t devote $13,000 in next year’s budget to replace playground equipment removed years ago from a city park. This is in a year when the city is looking at a $50,000 surplus – and only $500 was put into parks last year.
Mayor pro tem Laura Pixler, who suggested the idea of buying the new equipment, was willing to compromise.
She asked if the council could make a match of city funds with whatever donations are collected in a series of fundraisers scheduled for next month. No go. Then she asked if the council could devote $2,500 to at least purchase a piece or two of equipment to place in the empty park until more donations are collected. Again. No va.
Only Linda Anderson (no relation to Doug) supported Pixler.
Doug Anderson said people are acting like “a spoiled little child not to wait” until some time in the distant future for park equipment.
Not willing to wait? Delora Doughty Royal Park has sat without equipment for more than two years. And before that the equipment was run down, dilapidated and dangerous for who-knows-how long. The land was donated by the surviving family members of Delora to specifically be used as park land by the city.
Spoiled? The neighborhoods around the park are hardly filled with spoiled children. Take a look at the food bank, and see how few spoiled people there actually are in Newark.
Council member Bob Wells thinks it’s a “bad precedent” for municipalities to build parks for children. If that’s the case I guess most of the cities in the U.S. have set “bad precedents.” You can add pretty much every town in Wise County to that list. Bridgeport, Decatur, Rhome, Chico, Boyd and Alvord all have devoted time and money to parks.
But Wells said parks benefit such a small “demographic” it’s not worth it to the greater good to invest in parks. It’s Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy turned on its head.
So with the idea of bad precedents and spoiled children in mind, I decided to make an open record request to see how much money the city has spent on legal fees in the past year.
Last fiscal year the city spent $63,394.45 on legal fees. What really stands out is how much was spent on cases for one Newark resident named Katrina Ellis (who coincidentally was a former park board member before the council dissolved the board).
A cursory examination of the documents revealed the city has spent more than $45,000 on legal fees since Sept. 2011 just on Ellis. The cases revolve around Ellis having a fence and an RV in the city’s right-of-way. There is also an issue of an unpaid sewer bill.
The court ruled in the city’s favor. It found Ellis’ fence was indeed in the city’s right of way and ordered her to remove it. She didn’t, and recently had to spend two nights in jail for failing to follow a court order.
Legally, the city had the right to order the fence removed, and Ellis handled it wrong. But how in the world do you justify spending almost $50,000 on a simple right-of-way issue? If anything is a “bad precedent,” this is it. If anyone was acting like “a spoiled little child,” it was city officials authorizing the expenditure of this much taxpayer money in a right-of-way case. It appears more like a personal vendetta than standard proceedings.
The council could have funded playground equipment for four parks at the cost of what should be a minor legal issue.
Seems like a majority of the council members are still waiting for that prayer for wisdom to be answered.