Thursday, April 9, 2015




At Monday evening's Canton City Council Committee of the Whole work session, Canton Parks and Recreation director Derek Gordon presented a range of management models and funding models for the soon to be reconfigured parks and recreation system.

Right now the system is split in two.

Canton's parks are managed (in an overall sense, not "day-to-day" which of course is Director Gordon's job) by a Park Commission which was put into existence by Canton voters in 1920.

In 2013, Cantonians voted to fund the city's parks at 4 mills as a prelude to the reorganization which is projected to take hold on or about January 1, 2017.

Canton's recreation system is managed (again, in an overall sense) by a body named the Canton Joint Recreation District (CJRD).

Back in 2014 when reorganization of Canton's parks and recreation facilities and activities became a "hot button issue" in the wake of Canton voters having approved in November, 2013 the 4 mill levy (referenced above) which was the first step in Canton mayor William J. Healy's desire to reorganize parks and recreation functions for Canton; a challenge to the reorganization was mounted by an attorney connected with the provision of legal services to the CJRD (LINK).

There are those who think that former CJRD president Eric Resnick was in the thick of being a part of the challenge.  And there was a controversy as to whether or not Resnick was entitled to serve on the CJRD itself inasmuch as his term on the Canton City Schools (CCS-BOE; which he was an appointee of) had expired on December 31, 2013.

Resnick has been replaced on the CJRD by CCS-BOE member Ida Ross-Freeman.

With J.R. Rinaldi replacing Resnick as president, it seems that a much more conciliatory relationship between the Canton Park Commission and the CJRD has taken hold which portends and meshing of the two organizations on a more or less amicable basis.
  • SCPR Note:  Rinaldi and Resnick appear to be bitter political enemies in that they ran against each other in November, 2013 for a seat on the CCS-BOE with Rinaldi coming out the victor.
    • However, the "never say die" Resnick has taken out petitions to run once again for a CCS-BOE seat.
    • Resnick was at the center of a controversy earlier this year over the merger (he prefers the term "takeover") of Timken High School under the banner of McKinley High School which was part of a three phase Brighter Tomorrow project of the CCS Board of Education and being pushed by Superintendent Adrian Allison.

Resnick has taken out a petition to run again for school board (not for Rinaldi's seat).

Betcha John Rinaldi is cheering for Eric, no?

Anyway, with Resnick out-of-picture for now,  it appears not IF the CJRD will blend into the Canton Park Commission but rather WHEN and HOW and the amount (in terms of millage) officials will ask Cantonians to approve in November, 2015 and, if it fails, in November, 2016.

It will be interesting to see whether or not Resnick becomes a leader to defeat the funding initiative and thereby stop the merger, no?

Putting that question aside, the focus now is the model of the reorganization and how much Cantonians will be asked to fund the new entity with.

Yesterday the SCPR attended the April meeting of the Canton Park Commission (Commission) and is making available at the end of this blog the entire videotaped discussion among board members on those issues.

The Commission voted yesterday to recommend to Canton City Council (which has the final say on how the merger will be structured and financed), to wit:
  • that the current Park Commission model be the framework of the reorganization,
  • that it be funded at 5 mills (on the City of Canton tax base), and 
    • expressed a desire that the newly constituted entity would embrace a total community encompassing citizens advisory board that has meaningful input into Park Commission board decisions, and
    • expressed a desire that a strong connection be formed/maintained with the Canton City Schools and the Plain Local School District inasmuch city of Canton students utilize both school systems,
President Andy Black effectively articulated reasons that the SCPR agrees with as being persuasive factors compelling the Park Board Commission model as the one that Canton City Council ought to adopt.

On having a citizens advisory board as part of a Park Commission new entity model, here is the discussion from yesterday's meeting:

As seen in the video below, there was some contention about the amount of the millage.

Park Board Commissioner member and president Black references Canton City Council vice president and majority leader Frank Morris, Ill's comment - in response to Gordon's city council presentation:  "Go BIG, or go home!" comment.

And, trying to avoid being an advocate for higher millage, Director Gordon did point out to members Andy Black, Wuyanbu Zutali and Drew Pelger that 5 mills on the City of Canton tax base will not financially sustain Canton's parks and recreation functions and that if 5 mills is the ultimate millage presented to voters and they approve same such would necessitate cuts to a parks and recreation system that is already substantially undermanned when compared to government entities across the nation that provide parks and recreation services.

One possibility discussed to try to make a Parks Commission 5 mill model work was that cuts in annual funding to the J. Babe Stern Center and the Southeast Community Center would have to be made.

The extract below shows the numbers that will work going through 2021 on the basis of a 5.5 mill levy on the Canton city tax base.

A 5 mill levy is projected to put a Park Commission model entity at a $3.75 million deficit by 2021 if no cuts are made.

A CJRD model 5 mill levy is projected to keep Canton's park and recreation not only solvent but indications are that there would be nearly a $875,000 carryover going into 2022.

There is no doubt to the SCPR that cuts to the Stern Center (located in Ward 5) would be vehemently opposed by Ward 5 councilman Kevin Fisher not only because the center sits in his ward but because he used the center's facility during his growing up years in Canton and knows firsthand the value of the center in providing wholesome activities for the youth of Canton.

So one can see Fisher joining Morris to ramp up the proposed Park Commission Board recommendation to at least 5.5 mills which Gordon says will keep operations on an even keel through 2021.

On the other hand there is Councilman Edmond Mack (Ward 8).

While he clearly wants the best for Canton's parks and recreation needs, he is also mindful that the burden of property taxation is on properties in Canton's most wealthy section of the section, that, of course, being Ward 8.

While Mack, Fisher, Mariol (Ward 7) and Morris (Ward 9) are in agreement on many issues facing city council, the millage issue might be an example of differences which they have with one another from time-to-time.

Yesterday's Park Commission Board action was primarily designed to give the go ahead for Canton's law department to go to work in fashioning properly worded legal documents for the accomplishment of parks and recreation reorganization and to ensure that whatever millage is asked of Canton's voters will stand a test of judicial scrutiny if challenged by opponents of a merger of the CJRD into the Park Commission.

For the SCPR's part, yours truly finds the Morris admonition appealing:  that is to say "Go BIG, or go home!"

Perhaps rather than BIG, the mantra should be "bigger than 5.0 mills."

The Report sees a fully funded and therefore vibrant parks and recreation function as being a vital part of the upcoming Canton Citywide Plan which has the potential to hold Canton's population stable and perhaps be a lure for young families to take advantage of some very good home purchase values on the condition that city officials can:
  • get a grip on Canton's continuing crime problems,
  • devise a long term plan to replace the substructure of Canton's streets and highways so that repaving is no longer like pouring money down a rat hole, and
  • bring living wage jobs to Canton so that new generations will "work and live" within the city
Being a city councilman in an American city these days can be an overwhelming task.
That is why voters have to learn to be very selective in determining who constitutes having those qualities that will enable a body such as Canton City Council to cope with the overwhelmingness and over time turn despair into, to borrow the CCS expression,:  "A Brighter Tomorrow!"

Here is the SCPR's video (about 35 minutes) of the complete discussion that the Park Commission Board had at its regular monthly meeting this past Wednesday:

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