City’s current parks policy is bad precedent, unconstitutional

Published 7:38 am Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Slippery slopes, we often hear, should be tread lightly. 

The understanding being that once a person, or group of people, take a few steps into territory that is of questionable footing then it’s only reasonable to expect slipping and sliding, often to a depth not intended when the first tentative footsteps were taken.

Such is the case with the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen in their recent decisions for the Parks and Recreation Department. The board has not only taken steps onto dangerous terrain, they’ve watered the hill.

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Unless some changes in policy are made, I’m expecting lots of slipping and sliding until the whole shebang winds up in a heap at the bottom of the hill.

Here is what’s up:

The city has a Parks and Recreation director and assistant director. Their combined salaries are more than $100,000 plus benefits, and both are full-time employees. Additionally, there are a few part-time helpers who earn considerable amounts of money throughout the year, especially when the grass is growing fast.

The director and assistant are skilled at maintaining our parks (you would be surprised to know the total acreage – it’s a lot) and organizing youth activities. They do a good job, although casual observers would see room for more leagues and sports offered.

We have two main parks – Trussell and Patton Lane, and the director is charged with the upkeep of  both. When he was hired as director, Heath Fullilove told aldermen his goal was to form citywide leagues for youth sports, pointing out that Batesville’s population isn’t large enough to have separate programs at Trussell and Patton Lane – there just aren’t enough kids for that.

Besides, Fullilove said, the park system would benefit from community wide participation, and stronger All-Star teams and competition levels would result.

The problem is that Fullilove has never had the cooperation of the parents and community leaders who live around Patton Lane Park. They contend the city’s director ignores their facility, and their desire is to organize their own leagues and other activities.

In appeasement, the board has hired another person, Rev. Terry Townsend, to oversee the activities at Patton Lane and told Fullilove to mind the upkeep of the baseball field there, but leave the activities to others.

This is bad policy. Not because Rev. Townsend is not good for Patton Lane, but because it violates a very fundamental principle of America’s rule of law – the rejection of the loathsome Separate But Equal Doctrine, struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954.

Batesville’s aldermen have decided to operate under the decision of Plessey vs. Ferguson, saying the city will maintain separate facilities at Patton Lane (99.99 percent minority used) while purporting to give the attached families the benefit of equal services.

This can’t work for reasons that are extrapolated in the Supreme Court decisions, and apparent to any clear thinking person.

Here is a practical solution that would benefit all involved.

First, Rev. Townsend is a tremendous asset for the City of Batesville and the youth of the Patton Lane community, where he has worked for years to mentor young people through his organization. His record of success with youth programs is a testament of his love for the city’s youth and desire to see their lives shaped with a Christian influence, without regard to a child’s socio-economic status.

A good alternative to the current plan would be for the Board of Aldermen to financially support Townsend’s non-profit organization. Money donated to the group would be money well spent. Having a paid city employee, at odds with the Parks Dept. director is a bad idea. It is fraught with potential problems, and a slippery slope that is bad precedent.

Suppose the Street Dept. had internal fussing and aldermen decided the current department head should keep cleaning the streets on one side of town, and the other side could be looked after by someone more familiar with the community. It wouldn’t work, and neither will splitting up the duties of the Park Dept.

Townsend wants a variety of programs the city doesn’t currently offer, namely dance and karate. Funding his organization separately would allow for these activities, and not put the city in the unlawful position of offering city-backed services or programs for a select group of citizens.

The Mayor and Aldermen should also put aside any talk of building a sports complex in east Batesville until the long-promised multi-use center is built in west Batesville, ideally on the vacant lot next to the new fire station on Van Voris St.

A sports complex is an economic development project because its success would rely on regional support. A multi-purpose building with basketball court, volleyball areas, walking track, etc., would be a great benefit to the youth of west Batesville. We must care for our own youth first, then build the park designed to make money.

Townsend and like-minded citizens need a place to have their programs, and the city currently has no building to lend. This proposed building should be located somewhere within walking distance of the houses and apartments where Batesville’s most at-risk youth call home.

Batesville is better than Separate But Equal, and the City Board should right this wrong.

Give the park director and his assistant full authority to run all city-sponsored programs, and privately fund select organizations (like Townsend’s) who seek to change young lives. 

But, don’t have a Parks Dept. with open division and disunity. It’s a disservice to all who live, work, and raise their families here.