Terms Up On Park Commission Seats But New Members Shouldn't Get Too Comfortable

Posted: January 10, 2007

THE FIVE-YEAR terms to which the Fairmount Park commissioners were appointed expire this spring. This year, Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker heads the selection committee for the Board of Judges charged with selecting the next round of commission members.

Until September, Tucker was himself a member of the commission. Tucker resigned his seat when he was elected judge.

There are two ways to look this state of affairs. The positive interpretation is that Judge Tucker's involvement will be a boon, since he is equipped to know what's required of a commissioner.

The cynical view is that Judge Tucker will rubber-stamp the selection of all his old buddies on the commission, thereby perpetuating a system that is in need of serious reform.

Indeed, there are two ways to look at this opportunity for a new slate of commissioners: One would be to follow this editorial board's pattern of urging as many qualified members of the public as possible to apply for the commissioner post (it's unpaid; application deadline is Jan. 26.)

For far too long, appointments of park commissioners have been made in secret by the Board of Judges, which is not required to explain or defend its choices. The result has been a governing body for the parks that has, until recently, remained closed, and has over the years failed to provide the vision necessary to help our 9,700 acres of open space become the well-funded, well-run park system that could elevate the quality of life for all city residents.

In 2005, we called for the dissolution of the commission, and recommended that the city consider merging the functions of the park and recreation departments, as most large cities do. In fact, City Council members Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown have worked since then to create legislation that would replace the commission with a board of trustees that must show qualifications for presiding over a park system; the legislation would also make our city leaders more accountable for the state of the parks.

That legislation has been stalled, in part at the request of a park task force that wanted more time to study the issue. That task force includes three members of the current commission.

Given the commission's overall track record and embrace of the status quo, you'll pardon us if we take the cynical view on Tucker's ascension to the selection committee. It seems designed to ensure that the commission remains unchanged.

Besides, the actual application is hardly designed to help determine the qualifications of applicants. The 15-question form (available for download from www.fairmountpark.org) asks nothing remotely connected to background or credentials for serving on a park commission. The closest they come is "Are you available and otherwise committed to regularly attend the meetings of the Fairmount Park Commission?"

Anyone following the commission knows that "attendance" at the meetings isn't exactly the same as "participation." Some members have been known to never utter a single word.

The Council legislation is still on the books, and Clarke says he will introduce it soon. If successful, that will certainly cut short the terms for the next round of commissioners.

So while we still urge qualified candidates to apply during this current round, we do it with this proviso: If you are appointed, don't get too comfortable. Your days are likely numbered. *

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