Still, they say they want it back.
“The county does well, but I feel we can do just as well and maybe better,” Mayor Cornell Harvey said during a town hall meeting this week. “I think we’re not reaching all of our kids. The county is offering great service but our kids are not reaching that service.”
Earlier this month Harvey asked the county to return management of the city’s recreation facilities, plus $700,000 a year to fund them, and the two sides have agreed to negotiate. But they’ve historically maintained a contentious relationship, and there’s no guarantee the county will do as the city asks.
The decision could hinge on whether and when the city abandons alleyway easements it holds on a county-owned block downtown, though both sides deny that issue will be used as a bargaining chip. The alleys are preventing the county from redeveloping what is now just a very expensive dirt parking lot.
Harvey called the town hall meeting to solicit public input. He got an earful.
Several residents and one sitting commissioner said racism was the reason the county took over management of the department and Howard Coffin Park facilities and not as the result of a protracted negotiation over how to split sales tax revenue.
Commissioner Felicia Harris said many city kids are left out of recreation programs due of the distance to the county’s North Glynn fields and the lack of transportation to them, and also because of the county’s reluctance to use some city facilities.
”We want to make sure our children are being fully serviced,” she said.
Harris said she didn’t come to the meeting to discuss racism, but called it “the elephant in the room.”
Harvey said racism had nothing to do with the switch in management.
Harvey said the city’s recreation department suffered from poor management and a lack of funds for years, causing facilities to deteriorate and programs to be cut. But new leadership on the commission will enable the city to operate the park efficiently.
He has set a target date of July 1 for the city to retake control.
Commissioner Johnny Cason said the timetable is too ambitious.
“There’s part of my hide in this very room and all over this park,” said Cason, a lifelong resident of the city. “But I’m not in the same camp as our mayor and some of the other commissioners.”
Cason, who originally opposed turning the department over to the county, said now is not the time to take it back because the city’s economic outlook remains shaky.
“We need to do some feasibility and planning studies,” he said.
Mark Wright, who lives across the street from the park, said there’s a clear reason to leave the department’s management as it is, at least for now.
“The park is better maintained and better attended than I’ve seen it in years,” he said. “And the pool is full. A couple years ago, you had no problem getting into that pool because no one was there.”