Monday, November 13, 2023

Council Recap: Naming of Parks

Source: DALL-E

At the November 6, 2023, Richardson City Council meeting, one agenda item struck me as curious. It was listed as "REVIEW, DISCUSS, AND UPDATE ON THE 2021 BOND PROGRAM PARKS CAPITAL PROJECTS AND PROPOSED NAMES." That 2021 bond included $7.5 million for parks. You'd think the Council would keep a close eye on how that money is being spent. Good governance. Keep your eye on the ball and all that. Well, you'd think wrong. Instead, in Monday's update, the seven councilmembers were easily distracted by the unimportant part of that agenda item, the "AND PROPOSED NAMES."

Don Magner, the City Manager, started things off by talking about Point North Park, which I infer he thinks has wrongly been called a park. The City's own interactive map still calls it a park, and shows the pump station and associated water tanks, including the new humongous 5 million gallon tank, as being wholly contained inside the park. The park is variously listed as being both 18.78 acres and 5.49 acres, depending on which page you look. A City staffer says, "At this time, we wouldn't recommend renaming any parks, because that could cause some confusion." If there's any confusion here, it's by the City itself. The City knows what a park is. The public knows what a park is. The public knows that the City placed a water tank in a park, shrinking the space available to the public, no matter how much the City Manager continues to try to obfuscate the matter.

It's like the old story about Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln, faced with some thorny issue that could be settled by a twist of language, or a slight abuse of power, asks his questioner how many legs would a dog have, if we called the dog’s tail, a leg.
“Five,” the questioner responds confident in his mathematical ability to do simple addition.
“No,” Lincoln says. “Calling a dog’s tail a leg, doesn’t make it a leg.”
Source: Ed Darrell.

Magner said the City Attorney did some "very elaborate, very detailed work" to provide a resource for the public "to go and understand the true legal status of all of the property that comprises our parks and open space." I'm sure the City Attorney did just that, but I can't find it on the "Parks & Trails" website, despite hunting around for it for a good while. So I can't report on whether it clears up or adds to confusion.

Instead, I want to talk about how Monday's meeting was a master class in misdirecting the City Council's attention. Done talking about the Point North "Park" fiasco only 2 minutes into the presentation, the Council spent most of the next 60 minutes talking about naming new parks and facilities in the parks.

The Parks and Recreation Commission is tasked with recommending park names to City Council. At its October 10th meeting, the Commission recommended names for three new parks on Apollo Rd, Glenville Dr, and Interurban St. They recommended the names Apollo Park, Twin Rivers Park (the name Glenville Park is already taken and the new park is adjacent to the Twin Rivers assisted living community), and Interurban Common (the City doesn't own the property, DART does, so the City doesn't want to call such land a city park).

City Staff explained the naming practice: "We have historically named parks for geographic features. That's usually what most of our parks are named for, the natural landscape or the housing it is located in. We tend not to name parks after individuals, but we are open to naming amenities within a park after an individual like a pavilion or a bridge or something inside a park."

Councilmember Jennifer Justice approved of the names. "Good job." Mayor Pro Tem Arefin said about the names, "Looks good." In his first remarks, Councilmember Curtis Dorian approved of the parks and said nothing about names. Likewise, Councilmember Dan Barrios said nothing about the names. Councilmembers Joe Corcoran and Ken Hutchenrider made no initial remarks.

Then Mayor Bob Dubey spoke. He didn't question the existing policy that parks are not named after persons, but wanted to name some amenities in parks after persons, and specifically a couple of persons. He asked, "When would we have that opportunity? What's the process?" And that's when the discussion went off the rails.

Mayor Dubey proposed naming the bridge at the new Twin Rivers park after the late former Mayor Bob Townsend. Then he threw in the name of the very living never-mayor Mark Solomon as someone he'd like to see get something named after, too.

Dorian quickly supported naming something for Townsend.

Justice wasn't in a hurry. "The city manager's office could come back with ideas on all the parks. I don't know that I'm prepared to make recommendations and I didn't know we were going to discuss that."

It seemed to me that Mayor Dubey didn't just think of this during the meeting. It seemed that he came to the meeting wanting to piggyback on the motion to formalize the Parks Commission's recommended park names with his own desire to name something after his Place 1 predecessor Bob Townsend and his close political supporter Mark Solomon.

Hutchenrider was fine with that, identifying both Townsend and Solomon by name as persons he wanted to name amenities after.

Barrios tried to avoid being railroaded into a snap decision. He said, "I think that throwing names out before we have an established policy is a little cart before the horse."

Hutchrider was having none of that. He tried to maintain momentum by saying, "Personally, I don't want to see this get caught up in some big policy."

Dorian, as usual, tried to have it both ways, saying "Since we're really not prepared to make a decision on all that, I think it's good that the City brings us some options for us to look at but it is a good point to recognize the people that we've talked about."

Again, Hutchenrider objected, saying, "I'm going to disagree. Again, this is not a city management function if we have someone that we want to celebrate, we want to honor. That's not for City Manager to say okay, well here's the 47 people that that have done something in the past."

Justice reiterated that Mayor Dubey and Hutchenrider were rushing things. She said, "You've mentioned the playground. I hadn't even thought of that. I think there are several areas where we have an opportunity to honor people and I was suggesting bring us a list of what all those opportunities are."

Arefin seemed to agree with slowing things down, at least for a week. He said, "I think it's a good idea to wait till next week or so. So we can think about this thing a little more because it's an opportunity to recognize more individuals." He also said, "We don't have to name all the facilities that we've built today. We're going to be here for a thousand years, maybe a few thousand years, so there will be opportunity for future naming."

Mayor Dubey, perhaps worried that he was losing even his Mayor Pro Tem, argued that naming something for Townsend "goes back at least 7-8 years", implying, I guess, that he thought the Council ought to just do it already.

Barrios once again tried to lobby for a policy: "I think that we need to have a stated policy."

Hutchenrider still wasn't having any of it: "Trying to come up with a policy and, you know, come up with all this criteria et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, no, I'm dead set against that."

Dorian agreed, seemingly his standard response to everyone's opinion. I guess the Council's newly minted statement of its own role that says, "We set policies..." doesn't apply here. Policies are what they impose on others, not something to guide their own work. When they want, it's not government by policy, it's government by whim. There's no transparency in that. In the end, Mayor Dubey and Hutchenrider prevailed on that Monday night. Mayor Dubey gets his bridge before Barrios gets his policy. Government by whim.

Justice thought it was time to throw in the towel and move on. "I would suggest that perhaps we let Mr. Magner sort of take back what he's heard from everyone here and then we can decide from there. Next week, I'm fine moving forward with the bridge without a policy if they can still explore policy and we can all say yay or nay whatever. But we're spinning our wheels at this point." And that, I think, is where it was left.

I started by saying I found the "AND PROPOSED NAMES" part of this agenda item curious. Why wasn't approving the Parks Commission's recommended names just something in the consent agenda? Did Magner deliberately include that to distract the Council's attention from reviewing how the money was being spent on these bond projects? If so, he succeeded. I found it curious that Mayor Dubey expended as much time and energy as he did arguing for his desired outcome—naming something for Townsend and Solomon. Mayor Dubey hasn't spoken this many words on any other topic in Council meetings. Did he come prepared to expand this agenda item to get his personal pet projects through the Council? If so, he succeeded. The City Manager is expected to return next week with a proposal for Council's approval naming not just the three parks, but naming the bridge in one of the parks, too, ... after Bob Townsend. Well played, Mayor. And well played Mr. City Manager. The misdirection was masterful.

"Barrios seeks rules,
Hutchenrider is rigid.
Rule by whim prevails."

—h/t ChatGPT

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