By way of coincidence, there are mirror-image stories in this week’s paper regarding municipal recreation commissions for Brookfield and Riverside.
Riverside’s battle over the role of its Parks and Recreation Commission is pretty well known. It played out during a five-month period in 2010 when the village board majority at the time wished to dissolve the Parks and Recreation Board, which operated more or less independently with respect to the use of the village’s designated parks.
In its place, the board wanted to create an advisory commission. At the time, the fear was the tax levy required for recreation and set by a 1937 ordinance, would be appropriated by the village board and used for non-recreation uses.
The way the battle played out in reality was that the resulting advisory commission operated in a similar fashion to its board predecessor. With its required tax levy restored, the village’s recreation department has continued to grow and thrive.
Next week, the village board will vote to restore the autonomy regarding control of the use of park areas the group lost when it became a commission.
In Brookfield, officials over the past eight years or so succeeded in finessing a change to that village’s Playgrounds and Recreation Board. The board was established in 1951 and had similar powers invested by an ordinance created at the time. The ordinance also established a required annual tax levy to support the recreation program.
While the Brookfield rec board always had powers it had the ability to exercise, it often did not do that. For example, it became the longstanding practice in the village to cede baseball field maintenance and improvements to the local baseball leagues. This has led to a sense of ownership by the leagues over those fields and has resulted periodically in conflicts that the recreation board has difficulty fixing.
In 2007, the Brookfield village board passed a resolution, not an ordinance, “clarifying” the recreation board’s role. In essence, that resolution stripped the recreation board of the powers it had under the original 1951 law and made it an advisory commission.
Around the same time, in fact two years earlier, the village stopped levying tax dollars specifically for recreation as required by law. Village officials argue that recreation is still funded at levels beyond any taxes it would be required to levy.
Recently, the chairman of the recreation commission asked the village board to restore the recreation commission to a board, with the power to control over what goes on in the parks. The board says it doesn’t want to do that, claiming the rec board itself requested the change, which was made in 2007.
A couple of problems. In our opinion, you can’t change a law with a resolution, so the law was never changed. The village, in our eyes, must recognize the commission as a board and must continue to levy tax dollars for purposes of recreation specifically.
If the wish is to change the law, then go ahead and have that discussion and see how people feel about it. Passing a resolution isn’t going to do it.