Editor's note: This corrects the headline. The City Council has not made a final decision about changing the name of Bonita Canyon Sports Park.
NEWPORT BEACH — During Tuesday's City Council meeting, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry's proposal to form the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission led to a debate about whether it made sense to allocate any public resources to honor a political figure.
The proposed commission would be in charge of commemorating the centennial of the late president's birth with a monument, a celebration and new signage for Bonita Canyon Sports Park, which would be renamed for Reagan.
Curry last week said his project would rely on private funds, adding, "No taxpayers' money will be involved with the monument or naming of park."
However, some questioned how to interpret the use of public funds, as Tuesday's council agenda showed instances where taxpayers could be contributing to the project by way of allocating public-employee hours toward the effort to honor the 40th president and former California governor.
As far as using city staff's manpower, the mayor said any contribution would be minimal.
City staff would help with appointing a subcommittee for reviewing applications, recommending appointments to the commission and directing the Recreation and Senior Services Department to provide staffing to the commission, according to a city staff report on the matter.
When asked earlier in the week about city staff being used in the formation of the commission, City Manager David Kiff said that by involving the city at all the proposal will cost taxpayers.
"Anything I do costs taxpayers money," Kiff said. "If they're able to do [fund the effort privately] and cover costs, then it won't cost taxpayers anything."
Councilman Ed Selich felt that the mayor may be moving too quickly to form the commission. He wanted to first hear back from parks commissioners.
"I've got some real concerns about this item," Selich said. "I still think it's premature until we get a recommendation from the parks commission."
Curry proposed that the council allow the commission to be created so that it and the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission can bring their recommendations back to the council and they can look at all the information "in one fell swoop."
Selich stood his ground.
"What you're suggesting here is that we get a little bit pregnant, and I don't think there is such a thing," Selich said. "Either we're going to have a commission and go all the way or not. It just seems to me to be premature to establish a commission tonight. I'll stand by that."
Councilman Steven Rosansky also expressed ambivalence about the proposal. Although he supports honoring Reagan, he believes it is a complicated issue.
"Believe me, I thought President Reagan was a great president and did a lot of good things for this country," he said. "I mean, there (are) others that would disagree. We've seen that in some of our e-mails."
He thought it better to have an independent group handle the efforts.
"I received probably as many e-mails as anybody else. People are controversial," Curry said. "Some people are battling the battles of the '80s, and some people are wedded to the name Bonita Canyon Sports Park, although it only dates back to 2003."
Although Reagan was a Republican, Curry has said the idea is to honor a historical figure, not a political one.
"This is not a partisan proposal. Indeed, Reagan has become post-partisan, recognized by all Americans as a truly historic president," Curry said in an Oct. 12 statement.
Lauren Curran, a resident who voiced her opinion, was concerned about using the city's resources for the project.
"Whatever your perspective (is) on the Reagan administration, this request seems like an unnecessary diversion of resources…," she said. "It's a diversion of city staff, especially parks and recreation resources. All the departments are under budget pressure."
Curry pointed out earlier in the meeting that Reagan received nearly an 80% vote in Newport Beach when he ran for his second term.
Two motions were proposed during the meeting. The first was a motion to wait for the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission to make a recommendation before forming the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.
The motion failed with council members Curry, Michael Henn and Leslie Daigle dissenting. Council members Selich, Rosansky and Nancy Gardner voted in favor. Councilman Don Webb abstained.
Then Curry proposed a motion to form the commission that day. The vote was split once again, and the motion failed.
Curry said that they'll bring the proposal up again "in some form or fashion."