Picks For The Parks

Posted: January 16, 2007

THE PHILADELPHIA Parks Alliance agrees with the thrust of your Jan. 10 editorial, "Terms up on Park Commission seats." The Fairmount Park commissioners are up for reappointment this spring when their five-year terms end. The only way for the park to fulfill its enormous potential is for it to be run by absolutely the best people. This starts with the park commission.

The commission has jurisdiction over the Fairmount Park system. Until legislation changes the process, its members are appointed by Court of Common Pleas judges. To be run well, good intentions aren't enough. Commissioners must be qualified, dedicated and have expertise in many skills. They also need to be visionary and bold. There are and have been qualified and effective commissioners, but this is too often not the case.

Five years ago, both the Parks Alliance and the Daily News editorial board worked hard to improve the quality of the judges' appointments. And we succeeded in turning a spotlight on this closed and arcane process and, in some cases, the appointment of more qualified commissioners. To obtain the very best people will require changing the process used by the judges. And our recent conversations with President Judge Darnell Jones give us hope that this will indeed happen in this round of appointments.

We at the Alliance are hopeful and park users should be, too. Although the Alliance and the Daily News have had disagreements about tactics, we appreciate the paper's deep interest in the parks. We and the Daily News need to participate once again in making this process better. First it had to be opened up. Let the sun shine on this system developed when public life ran on patronage and privilege.

* Advertise for these openings so that qualified people know about them. Invite applications.

* Set the bar high. Publish broad criteria that give people an idea of what is expected. And, as the Daily News said, it is a lot more than just attending meetings. If the judges don't already know what it will take, they can learn. They can read the Daily News series "Acres of Neglect." By now, many people know the answers. The judges can talk to them. They can read the recent reports.

* The park needs different skills: vision, finance, land use, recreation, community revitalization and fund raising, to name a few. Pick commissioners with a track record in these different skills.

* Start now. The more interest in our parks, the better it is for them and us and our city and region.

The editorial alluded to a point on which we've disagreed: legislation to reform the overall way Fairmount Park is governed. Council Members Darrell Clark and Blondell Reynolds Brown worked for more than a year to achieve this.

So did we at the Parks Alliance, together with our partners in the Citizens for Better Parks campaign, the Park Reform Task Force and with the help of many, many concerned and knowledgeable citizens. The task force developed a detailed, long-term plan and tried hard to come to agreement with the Council members on the right solution. We couldn't at that time, but the Parks Alliance still believes we can and should get it done in 2007.

The goal is a truly great park system for Philadelphia and our region. We can all agree on that - the Parks Alliance, the Daily News, the judges and, most of all, you who are reading this. Let's start to make it happen by appointing outstanding new park commissioners this spring. *

Lauren Bornfriend is executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance. Doris Gwaltney is a board member, Philadelphia Parks Alliance, and president of Carroll Park Neighbors.

To nominate someone (including yourself) as a Fairmount Park commissioner, fill out this three-page form and mail it to Judge Leon Tucker, Court of Common Pleas, City Hall, Room 544, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107. It must be received by 3 p.m. on Jan. 26.

More copies of the form are available at www.fairmountpark.org and www.philaparks.org.

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