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PS: On Parks

by C. H. Wells

I didn’t know Don Maynard. As far as I am aware, I never met the man, even in passing. I do know a couple of things about him, though; namely, that he gave of himself to his community, and that he was well-respected and held in high esteem and with much affection in the minds and hearts of his fellow citizens. How do I know this? Because he had a park named after him, of course!

That’s what this simple … and not so simple … act says about someone. When you name a public park, school, facility, street, after someone, it says all of those things. So, what does it say when you take away that honour, and sell off the dedicated property? Hmmm, yes indeed – rather makes you squirm in your seat, doesn’t it?

I’ve tried to find a word that describes how this act appears. I’ve run the gamut from a very simple ‘insensitive,’ to ‘tasteless,’ to downright ‘repellent.’ But the word that surfaces, most consistently, for me, is the word ‘ungracious.’ By all accounts, this is not something Don Maynard, himself, was inclined to be, nor does his memory deserve it.

How Council could have contemplated such an act, without anticipating the very negative response it would glean, is beyond me. But when situations like this arise – especially when, on the surface of them, they seem so blatantly simple and one-sided – I usually try to take a look at the situation from all sides. [There are rarely only two.] Namely, what does this mean to and for Council? What does this mean to and for the family and friends of Don Maynard? What would this have meant to Don Maynard, himself? What does this mean to/for the rest of us? For our parks? For the future?

Unquestionably, Council’s judgment failed them in this instance; and, yes, it’s not the first time. But, please, let’s remember that they’re human – just like we are. Do you always make all of the right decisions, all of the time? I know I don’t.

We elect our mayor and councillors to act on our behalf. We elect them to handle the daily “stuff” that we don’t want to be bothered with. Think of them as our “business managers.” Do we really want them calling us up every time a bill needs to be paid, or a ‘customer’ lodges a complaint?

Do we really want Council launching a referendum – a very expensive referendum – every time a difficult decision has to be made? You couldn’t run a successful retail outlet that way, let alone a municipality. We must trust them, for day-to-day decisions. We would be crippled by indecision otherwise.

But given this freedom of action, it’s pretty much inevitable that they will make mistakes, or, at the very least, make decisions that we may not all agree with. What then? Surely, if it’s their job to act on our behalf, then it’s our job to ensure they act appropriately. But what is the mechanism for correcting Council’s “errors” [… Impeachment?! By-election?! …], especially when Council hasn’t done anything illegal, immoral – or even, against their mandate?

And let’s be honest … Council hired Stantec to do a study and prepare a report – a Parks and Recreation Master Plan – as part of their fiduciary duty to the municipality they administer. Presumably they chose this company because the company had enjoyed a good reputation for similar work in the past. And Council used public monies to pay for this report. So … honestly, now … what do you think public response would have been, if Council had ended up completely ignoring this document?

… [Mm-hmm. Exactly!] …

And yet, when they did suggest following the advice that came from a report they requisitioned and paid for on our behalf … we-e-ell … [!!]

Among other things, this document recommended that one park be sold to help finance the rest. So far so good. One park pays for another, no other program or service gets chopped, and … NO NEW TAXES!  [Sounds like a politician’s dream, doesn’t it?]

So what went wrong?

What went wrong is that the piece of parkland declared surplus, in the Stantec report, wasn’t just any piece of parkland. It wasn’t a piece of parkland named after a nearby street, or a tree, or a feature of its topographical anatomy – it was a park with someone’s name on it. Someone who lived here with us in recent memory.

The impact of this recommendation on the family and friends of Don Maynard seems pretty obvious. This has been shocking, hurtful, and emotionally-demoralizing for them. Who could blame them for an immediate, knee-jerk reaction? The idea of selling off a park that was named for, and dedicated to the memory of, a beloved member of our community is offensive and insulting, not only to Don Maynard, but to anyone and everyone else who cared for him.

Stantec may not have had any emotional connection to our community (ergo their “logical” conclusion about the park’s redundancy) but Council does. They should have known better; they should have done better. One is left to wonder what the consequences might have been had Council chosen to handle this differently. If, for example, they had first consulted with the family, discussed options, and had come to an amicable solution, before this became public, this entire event might even have passed relatively unnoticed.

Perhaps, on discussion, there might have been found an even better option to honour Don Maynard – something even better fitting his nature, his character, and his years of service. Something that might have meant even more to him than the park that was chosen for the honour. Or, coming to a better understanding of the depth of feeling and connection his family felt toward this particular plot of land, Council might have changed their minds about ever suggesting the sale and gone back to the drawing board.

But we will never know, now, what a different approach might have wrought. A die was cast. The ‘fan’ has been running full tilt. And Council is currently digging out, once again, from under a very unpleasant mound of … er … ‘proverbial.’

I can’t help wondering, though, what Don Maynard himself would think of all this. Or what he would want, under the circumstances. If he was anything like my dad was, he would be absolutely mortified to find himself at the centre of all this fuss – and wouldn’t want it. He’d be the first one to say:  “Don’t worry about me. Never mind. It’s only a piece of land. It’s not important. What’s important is what it can do for the rest of the town. Don’t make a fuss over me.” Now, of course, if he were my dad, I would summarily ignore him … and make a fuss anyway!  😉

What might be even more telling, however, for those who knew him best, is to ask yourself what he would have wanted if it were someone else in his place? If Don Maynard were on Council, or involved in a committee tasked with deciding how this issue should be resolved – how would he want it done? How would he weigh the pros and cons – the head against the heart?

Of all of the town’s citizens he would have been among those foremost in knowing the need for such facilities – and the need to find the funds for such facilities. Yet, it is likely he would also have been aware of the emotional impact such a decision could have on the people at the core of it, and “the people,” generally. Would he have supported abandoning one park to improve several others, even if that meant selling a park named in someone’s honour? Might he have agonized over this decision, wondering:  “What’s best for everyone?”

Certainly, as a coach, Don Maynard would have encouraged good sportsmanship. Fairness. Respect. And even – should the home team lose – being gracious, and accepting that loss gracefully. Might the man himself, with thoughtfulness, experience, and creativity, have found a way for everyone to win? Can we?

In truth, this hurts us all. We’re hurt when we imagine how awful this must feel for the family and friends of Don Maynard; we’re hurt in knowing it is our council, acting in our behalf, who is contemplating this action; and we are hurt, too, in knowing that our parks program may end up suffering over this decision.

But what if the park declared surplus had had no one’s name attached to it? What if, as previously suggested, it was merely named for a nearby street, or a tree, or a topographical feature? Would we see this sale, then, as a sound business move? Would the selling of this parkland be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Is this, in fact, the right approach to take, in funding our parks?

And what happens to this space if it’s sold “for development”? We would not just be losing a park, we’d be gaining a … what? What would be raised in place of this open space? Would this parkland make way for yet another residential suburb? What would this do to existing property values in the area? What would it mean for the future?  Would this risk bringing Almonte even closer to becoming a mere “bedroom community” for the ever-expanding National Capital Region?!

There are myriad issues, here. This is not just a matter of trading one park for another. We’re deciding the future of our town. Others have suggested in the past – our current mayor among them – that it may be time to review our entire blueprint for the future. To take a fresh look at our COP with today’s eyes. After all, any good “cop” has to stay abreast of changing times in order to be effective in responding to the needs of a changing community.

It’s rare that out of something bad, something good cannot be extracted. Council has lately been reminded of where our hearts are at, and maybe, just a little, of where theirs are, too. Perhaps, in one further service to his community, Don Maynard has, once again, managed to focus us on what truly matters.

 

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