When four new parks and recreation commissioners are seated in January, there will be little fanfare accompanying the ceremony.
But several former commissioners and longtime residents see the event as a significant moment in the city’s history, a changing of the guard.
“When I was on the commission, we had people from five different backgrounds,” said Susan Klingaman, who was removed from the commission in September. “Now it’s all basically youth sports people.”
Klingaman was one of four parks and recreation commissioners caught up in a battle between the commission and the City Council over the need for more sports facilities.
The battle culminated when three council members voted to remove Klingaman, Wendell Bainter, Dean Clark and Carol Cantwell from the commission. And few council watchers were surprised that the new commissioners, appointed earlier this month, are all active in various youth sports programs.
The new appointees and the recent passage of a $12.5-million bond issue that will be used largely to build sports facilities has some longtime residents convinced the council is pushing aside the needs of the rest of the city to focus exclusively on youth sports.
“What you have on the council now are relatively young members with young kids who are concentrating just on the things they are interested in,” said a former council member who asked to remain unidentified. “The scary part is they have to borrow to pay for these things.”
Chris Norris, who has lived in the city for 22 years, said the council appears to be ignoring a survey that shows people want more open space and not more ball fields.
“The impression the council is giving is that youth sports is the most important thing,” Norris said. “The commission is stacked with youth sports, and the rest of the population is left out.”
But Councilman John M. Gullixson, who has lead the council’s recent efforts to add more sports facilities, said the emphasis on youth sports is appropriate for a city with thousands of children involved in the activities.
“This town has more kids per capita than probably any other in the county,” Gullixson said. “If we aren’t actively promoting youth activities, we would be setting the city up for a negative impact from youths.”
If the city is changing directions, Gullixson said, it’s because no one ever expected the city would become home to so many families with children.
“I think (the complaints) are coming from the old guys sitting around who thought young families would never be able to afford to live here,” he said. “Well, they can and they do.”