Is there a point to the Brookfield Playgrounds and Recreation Commission? That was the question its chairman posed to the village board on May 28, as the commission sought to regain powers it lost – supposedly voluntarily – back in 2007.
Scott Encher appeared before the village board for nearly an hour late last month, to ask that the board reconsider a resolution the board passed in 2007 to change the 1951 ordinance that established the recreation board.
At the time, officials said they were merely codifying the way the board had operated for years, as an advisory commission with no particular authority to establish parks policies.
Since 2007, however, the recreation commission has had little to do other than approve picnic permits and schedule ball fields for Little League. That’s not much of a job, according to Encher.
“If the village board wants us to be advisory, we can’t do anything about that,” Encher said. “Then we as a group can decide do we want to give advice or go one Tuesday a month and do other things with our life.”
Encher said no one has threatened to resign at this point and commission members are still willing to see if the village board is interested in seeking their advice on park-related issues. But in recent years, there has been precious little for the commission to consider.
The last time the commission sent a recommendation to the board, regarding a field-use policy, the board dismissed it out of hand.
Yet the commission still has no way to handle field-use conflicts that arise because there’s nothing in writing. As a result, Encher indicated, problems get solved by whoever can call in some clout.
“There has to be some organizational structure put together, as opposed to calling the village president or the village manager or the rec department,” said Encher. “It seems whoever got the phone call, they solved the problem, which wasn’t a level playing field for all the parties throughout the village.”
The Playgrounds and Recreation Commission would like to put together a uniform field-use policy to be able to handle disputes or conflicts in the future.
The issue boils down to whether or not to continue the decades-old policy, ultimately as a way to save money, of the village letting Brookfield Little League and other private leagues maintain and improve ball fields at Kiwanis Park and Jaycee/Ehlert Park, thus ceding a large degree of control over those fields to private groups.
The leagues often lock fields so citizens can’t use them and wield a great deal of control over who can use the fields. Encher described an incident where traveling baseball teams who want to use a baseball field were directed to settle the matter directly with Brookfield Little League and not the village.
“We’re talking about two private corporations dictating when and how other people can use village parks,” Encher said. “We don’t have a set of rules that says, no, we dictate that.”
Despite Encher’s pleas, village board members showed little interest in changing the way the commission operates.
“I think a field-use structure falls under the parameters of the village board,” said Trustee Michael Garvey, who was village president when the village board voted for the resolution to change the recreation board into an advisory commission.
“While it’s not the perfect system, it’s the system I believe works,” he added.
Village President Kit Ketchmark said the commission should understand that as an advisory group, it needs to realize that the village board may not always agree with its recommendations.
“You can’t have an appointed board determining these things with no oversight,” said Ketchmark in a separate interview.
The trouble, according to Encher, is that the commission’s advice is almost never sought, much less accepted. When the village decided it was going to make improvements to Jaycee/Ehlert Park and Kiwanis Park, the parks commission was never involved, he said.
But Keith Sbiral, Brookfield’s assistant village manager who completed the grant applications for those park improvements, said members of the recreation commission were specifically invited to attend public hearings and board meetings about those matters but chose not attend.
Ketchmark and Garvey said communication between the board and the commission must improve and promised Encher that the group will be part of discussions on future park improvements.
However, the commission’s uncertainly about its place in village government has had an effect. Since 2008, when the village board dismissed the commission’s recommendation on a field-use policy, the village has had a tough time attracting and keeping people on the recreation commission.
In 2010 and 2011 the five-person commission often had just three members. Since 2010 the commission has not been able to field a quorum for almost half its scheduled meetings.