The Riverside village board is poised to undo a law passed in 2010 that changed its Parks and Recreation Board into an advisory commission. Trustees briefly considered the matter at their meeting on June 6 and will vote to change the ordinance at their June 20 meeting.
The change will apparently come with little opposition or fanfare, unlike the September 2010 vote to create the advisory commission, which prompted protests from the recreation board and private citizens. The 2010 law prompted an advisory referendum that November, a push led by then-trustee and current Village President Ben Sells.
Voters overwhelmingly favored the recreation board as it had existed until September 2010 – by a count of 2,750 to 746. But the village board at the time refused to recognize the result.
“The whole point in my mind of the 1937 ordinance that established the rec board and the tax levy was to emphasize the essential nature of the recreational use of parks in Riverside,” Sells said. “Converting it to a commission diminished that emphasis. The importance to me is making the jurisdiction clear — that [the recreation board has] jurisdiction over those areas.”
Susan Casey, the chairwoman of the recreation commission and former recreation board member, said the change is important to clarify the jurisdictional question.
“There are really gray areas now about who can do what in the parks,” said Casey, “who has control of landscaping, constructing fences. It’s been a real disappointment to go from an instance where we have control to these gray areas.”
According to Casey, all of the members of the rec commission, which would be dissolved in the changeover, have been invited to be on the recreation board.
The new ordinance does keep intact a provision which clearly designates that the recreation department employees report directly to the village manager and explicitly states the village board has final say-so over budgetary issues.
But reverting back to a recreation board, said Sells, will give that group an autonomy missing from the current structure.
“The Parks and Recreation Board has jurisdiction over the parks,” said Sells, who gave the example of putting up fencing for a ball field as the type of action the rec board could undertake without village board involvement even though the board could quash that expense if it really wanted to. In practice, however, the village board has respected the recreation board’s independence on such matters in the past.
“They have a degree of autonomy in that regard,” said Sells.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine, a former Parks and Recreation Board chairman, said the change back to a board from a commission was in the best interests of residents.
“It doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want without coming to this board; we ultimately hold the purse strings,” said Ballerine. “But I truly believe that if the Parks and Rec Board was a commission eight years ago, nine years ago, we probably wouldn’t have Patriots Park and we probably wouldn’t have Turtle Park.
“I think it’s very important that those areas that are designated for recreation … we need to protect that as recreation, and we need that board to have jurisdiction there.”
Frank Gangware, who was the chairman of the recreation board when it was dissolved in 2010, said he’s glad the group will regain its autonomy. Being a board with clear jurisdiction over the parks, for example, the group wouldn’t be forced to undergo review by other commissions if it wants to consider capital projects there.
“It might be important for them to have the freedom and autonomy,” Gangware said.
At the same time, he said the current commission has been functioning in a similar fashion to the old board and has done well since being created and led by his former rec board colleague, Casey.
“I’m very pleased with Susan’s leadership and the rest of the commission,” Gangware said.
Former village trustee Lonnie Sacchi, who was instrumental in pushing for the dissolution of the rec board and creating an advisory commission, said he still favors the commission structure, but he won’t be getting involved to protest the change being proposed.
“I think everything should be centralized,” said Sacchi. “I’m against balkanizing village government.”