The Town Council recently rejected the first draft of a proposal outlining a new commission that would oversee the community's Parks and Recreation Department.
Establishment of a recreation commission was suggested when the parks department's current director announced his retirement. The director, Matt Bolles, had come under fire from several council members who had publicly questioned the department's operations.
In response, many islanders vocally defended Bolles, who has served as chief of the town's recreation department for 17 years.
The dispute demonstrates the difficulty that the recreation department can have in satisfying the wide-ranging interests of Jamestowners. The department oversees operations of the campground at Fort Getty, maintenance of the town's ball fields on Lawn Avenue, and the upkeep of the soccer fields off Eldred Avenue. In addition, the department is in charge of the Community Center on Conanicus Avenue and manages the many different sports leagues and exercise programs offered year round at the center, at the town's golf course building, and at the schools.
The recreation department has also worked with many community organizations. The most visible is the Jamestown Community Theatre, which has used the Community Center as a rehearsal and performance site. In return, the thespian group has contributed many dollars to the upkeep and renovation of the aging facility.
The JCT is not the only group using the Community Center. The Conanicut Island Art Association uses the Community Center for its annual summer shows. The Jamestown Community Chorus holds its annual talent show there. There are many more groups on the roster. Throw in logistics for the proposed teen center operations, and the department director has a tough job to make everybody happy.
The recreation department has a $350,000 annual budget, but also generates revenue from its programs and the campground operations.
When one considers the vast and varied responsibilities of the recreation department, it makes sense that an advisory commission could improve services. Such a commission ought to be comprised of representatives from the soccer and baseball organizations, the theater group, and a high school student, among other community members.
If we think outside the box, we could use the Fort Getty campground to create even more cash that could be used to fund the park's improvements detailed in a recent master plan report. The additional moneys might also further the recreation department's offerings.
The Town Council said that it would prefer that the proposed commission focus on program policies and needs, and not become involved in budgeting and personnel. Management of personnel should remain the responsibility the town administrator. However, given the scope of the department's operations, the recreation director should work closely with the proposed commission in developing the annual budget. After all, it is the budget that defines the department's operations.
Let's use this opportunity to make the Parks and Recreation Department even better. We can improve its programs and facilities. Properly defined, the proposed recreation commission would make the department more reflective of the community's overall needs.