Recall for recreation board?
A Basalt councilwoman took a nearly unheard of step Tuesday night of suggesting the recall of other elected officials.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman vented frustrations about the elected board of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District at the council’s regular meeting. Freedman alleged that the district hasn’t made visible progress on recreation issues since it was formed 14 months ago.
“Thoughts of recall go through my mind,” said Freedman. “They really are being irresponsible.”
Three events triggered Freedman’s ire. First, she noted, property tax bills arrived last week that showed the size of a new levy by the Crown Mountain district. A “starter” house with an actual value of $312,000, for example, received an additional tax of $74 this year.
Freedman was also angry to learn that the Crown Mountain board declined to contribute money to maintain a proposed running track that a citizens’ group is trying to build at Basalt High School.
The citizens’ group is asking the town to contribute to the maintenance fund of that proposed track since Crown Mountain has declined. Freedman was against that move.
“I can’t see making a commitment that lets them off the hook,” she said.
Freedman noted that Crown Mountain had also agreed philosophically to take over operation of the town of Basalt’s recreation program. That hasn’t happened yet. Although a date was never specified, it’s happening too slowly for Freedman and other Basalt officials. The town budgeted $155,000 on recreation programs in 2004.
Freedman expressed displeasure that the town is “spending as much money as ever” on recreation since Crown Mountain was formed.
The recreation district was approved by a comfortable margin by midvalley voters in November 2002. Voters gave the district authority to issue $5.1 million in bonds. Those funds will be spent primarily on new facilities at the old Mount Sopris Tree Farm, now known as Crown Mountain Park. A fraction of the funds will be reserved for operations and maintenance. The bonds will be repaid through a property tax.
At that same election, voters elected the district’s board of directors.
Mark Fuller, a co-director of the district, said he found it incredible that there is a perception the board hasn’t done anything since it was created. The board has been holding at least two meetings per month, and often more, to refine the plan for facilities and sports fields for the park, according to Fuller.
The board felt that its first mandate from voters was to complete that plan so construction could start. Although major components have remained from a plan that was approved in 2002 by Eagle County, the location of some of the pieces has changed. Crown Mountain’s new plan will be reviewed again this winter by Eagle County.
Fuller said the plan is already “99 percent” done.
“I think it’s fair to say people will see considerable construction in the next few months,” said Fuller.
The new amenities will include ball fields, basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and picnic areas, a pedestrian trail, a BMX track, community gardens and greenhouses, and a dog park. Those amenities will be phased in over a number of years.
A soccer field was previously constructed by Eagle County to build momentum for the project.
Fuller declined to respond directly to Freedman’s comments. “I’m not going to get in a war of words with Anne or anyone else,” said Fuller, a veteran of local government and a longtime consultant.
Laurie Soliday, chair of the Crown Mountain board, also declined comment, specifically on Freedman’s suggestion of a recall. Soliday said the Crown Mountain district’s board has “done a lot of work in the last year.”
Someone who hasn’t participated in that public process wouldn’t be aware of the progress that has been made, she said. Soliday said she didn’t believe Freedman had attended any of the recreation district’s public forums or meetings.
Soliday said the district’s focus has been on preparing a plan for the park. Now that the plan is nearly finished, there is time to turn attention to other issues, such as taking over Basalt’s recreation program. She and Fuller confirmed in separate interviews that taking over the town’s program was appropriate for Crown Mountain.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” said Fuller.
Soliday said the Basalt Town Council has been invited to a recreation district meeting on Feb. 3 to discuss the issue. Ironically the invitation was sent the morning of the day Freedman vented her anger.
Freedman wasn’t the only member of the Basalt council to express frustration with the Crown Mountain board, but she was by far the most vociferous. Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann stated that the February meeting would be a good time to express “discontent” to the Crown Mountain board.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt questioned why the Crown Mountain district was formed if it wasn’t taking a lead role in midvalley recreation issues.
Fuller invited people to check the Crown Mountain Web page for updates on the district’s progress. The Web address is http://www.crownmtn.org.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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