At a special meeting on Monday night, the St. Germain Town Board took steps towards establishing a parks and recreation committee, though the town already has one committee to oversee and expand non-motorized trail usage. Supervisors also worked towards placing checks on the power of the town chairman to establish meeting agendas as he pleases.
Is this town big enough for the two of them?
For many months, the board has been planning how best to establish a recreation area on tracts of town land informally known as Fern Ridge. Plans include moving an existing snowmobile and ATV/UTV trail to accommodate a proposed parking area, a proposed sledding hill, potential new trails for non-motorized use, and potential toilet and warming facilities. The town’s snowmobile club, ATV/UTV club, and non-motorized trails committee worked closely with the town board to ensure agreeability among all user groups.
As discussions went on and long-term proposals became more detailed, questions arose about the responsibilities of administering and maintaining not only individual facilities, but also the Fern Ridge property as a whole.
At a recent town board meeting, supervisor Tim Clark proposed establishing a parks and recreation committee to manage not only Fern Ridge, but also those town properties already designated as parks and those in forestry districts which may be used for public recreation. Discussion of Clark’s proposal took place at Monday’s meeting.
At the outset of the conversation, town chairman Tom Christensen specifically addressed audience members Anne Small, Jim Vogel, and Bob Schell, as well as supervisor Jim Swenson, all of whom are members of the non-motorized trails committee.
“I want to say right off the bat: I don’t want the non-motorized group to be affected by this in any way,” Christensen said. “Or cause it to decide not to continue to meet and not continue to do your good work ... You’re doing an excellent job.” He cited examples of ball diamonds and tennis courts and said “there’s a lot of (town) work outside of what you are doing. But by the same token, it’s down the same path of what you guys are doing.”
The chairman expressed his concern about potential overlaps in responsibility causing conflicts between the two committees.
“And that was certainly not my intention in bringing it up,” Clark said. “But there should be a little overlap. There are things (non-motorized sport groups) do that go on in town parks. I think one will compliment the other.”
Small, the chairwoman of the non-motorized trails committee, questioned whether her group would become a subcommittee of parks and recreation.
“My only concern would be the layering of government,” Schell told the board. “If you’re going to do this, you’d have to do it in a way that the committees could work together ... I don’t think anybody’s against the idea of a parks committee. Just be sure you don’t build layers where it’s difficult to get things done in those subcommittees.”
Supervisor Ted Ritter asked whether the non-motorized trails committee is a standing or special (temporary) committee. Most supervisors agreed — since the group has been meeting regularly since June 2015 — it is a standing committee. However, Small pointed out the group was organized as an ad hoc committee, which means temporary.
Christensen said at the time the non-motorized trails committee was formed, “We didn’t know how long you guys were going to meet.”
“But now, it’s become a regular group,” he said. “And I don’t think your work is going to be finished in the next year or two.”
“I don’t think it will ever be finished, really,” Vogel said.
Ritter volunteered to draft resolutions to recognize both non-motorized trails and parks and recreation as standing committees. He also plans to include details in his draft which would outline the responsibilities of each group with an eye on minimizing overlap and maintaining each group’s autonomy.
The board will revisit the subject after Ritter has completed his drafts.
Give the people what they want
The board also made its second review of a proposed ordinance which would limit the ability of the town chairperson to set board meeting agendas with items solely of his or her choosing.
Ritter read the proposed draft aloud: “Any town board member or any voting member of any town standing committee or any town special committee may, during the course of any meeting, motion to include a specific topic on the agenda of a future meeting. Providing the motion receives a second and is approved by a majority vote, the chairperson of that body will place the topic on a future agenda as specified by the approved motion.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the draft for adoption. That ordinance — and several zoning ordinance changes — will be the subjects of a public hearing on Sept. 16 before the board votes to adopt or reject them.
Christensen was the one who proposed the ordinance, and he provided background on why he sought to put a check on his own power as chairman.
“When I first got on the board, the chairman believed the agenda was solely up to him and if he didn’t want to put an item on the agenda, he just wouldn’t,” he told The Lakeland Times. “We’d have a majority of the board say we wanted to discuss a certain topic at the next meeting, and he just wouldn’t bother to put it on ... The statute says he has the responsibility to put together the agenda for the meetings. And he felt that meant he had the sole authority over what was on the agenda.”
“Just saying ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ and leaving things off the agenda just wasn’t doing the town any good,” Christensen said. “I believe — and I think the majority of us believe — the agenda should be open to anyone’s reasonable wish to discuss town business.”
Pickleball comes to town
The board also gave its approval for pickleball lines to be added to the town’s tennis courts. Supervisors will contact Pitlik and Wick (who finished and painted the tennis courts) for a price quote. If a professional job is cost-prohibitive, a crew of town volunteers indicated they would paint the lines. The board voted to pay for paint and supplies.
The two courts may be ready for pickleball play in just a few weeks.