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Parks and rec fiasco gets new wrinkle

Mayor appoints two new park members in time for election of president

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

Platte City Mayor Dave Brooks’ burgeoning parks and recreation fiasco received a new wrinkle when city officials were given an impromptu civics lesson at Tuesday’s meeting of the Platte City Board of Aldermen.

Currently enmeshed in an imbroglio over a letter written to the Platte City Park Board, which called into question park board members' desire to volunteer physical labor in the pocket park project, Brooks' successful attempt to appoint new members to the park board was called into question by Alderman Ron Porter.

Noting that Brooks’ appointees to the board were on the consent agenda, a portion of the meeting which is not open to general discussion before voting, Porter unsuccessfully attempted to have the item moved to the regular agenda. Porter stated that he wanted to discuss the members' qualifications and that he desired to meet the appointees before voting.

His motion wasn’t accepted, however, and Bart Bradley, Marsha Clark, Steve Sampsell and John Kurtz were successfully appointed (Bradley and Clark are reappointments; Kurtz and Sampsell are new members) to the board in the same manner that minutes of previous meetings are approved and bills are paid.
During the meeting’s general discussion period, Porter again brought up his failed motion.

Porter said that he wasn’t “trying to be negative” by making the motion, but stated that he felt the appointments merited further scrutiny. Porter had questioned the legality of such a move before, when Brooks appointed members to another city board in the same fashion. Traditionally, only items that occur regularly and without dispute are put on the consent agenda.

Brooks said that he understood Porter’s concerns but said that neither Sampsell or Kurtz could make it to Tuesday's meeting. With the park board voting for its “president and board members” on June 7, Brooks explained that it was important to get the appointees on the board before then.

Alderman George McClintock then sought to back up the mayor’s reasoning with a flawed interpretation of the Platte City municipal code.

“The mayor appoints,” McClintock told Porter. “We don’t have a say…this (putting the matter up to vote) is just a courtesy.”

Porter disagreed, saying that the aldermen had to approve such appointments. A brief “no, he doesn’t…yes, he does” exchange followed between the two as the rest of the aldermen looked on, before City Clerk Tanya Bates put an end to the debate, confirming Porter’s take on the law—aldermen must vote to approve or disapprove of the mayor's appointments.

McClintock immediately apologized.

“I stand corrected,” McClintock exclaimed.

It was the third time in as many meetings that the park board had been mentioned during remarks of the board of aldermen.

In April, Brooks questioned whether park board members would “work with their fingers” in the Main Street pocket park construction. He followed up on the remarks with a written letter to the board that was signed by all six aldermen.

As exclusively reported in the May 6 edition of The Landmark, the letter was summarily ignored by the park board, under the direction of Dick Stephens, president of the board. Specifically, Stephens said he objected to the tone of the letter, and after the board decided not to respond, it became a “non-issue” for the board. The letter did not specify what action, if any, the mayor and the board of aldermen would take if the letter was not responded to by a stated deadline the mayor placed in his letter.

During the May 11 meeting of the Platte City Board of Aldermen, Mayor Brooks began angrily lashing out at The Landmark for reporting on the story. He went on to characterize the letter as an “innocent” attempt at communication and questioned the work ethic of the reporter who wrote the story (Editor’s note: Mark Vasto was the journalist who wrote the original story and this follow-up account).

Stephens is standing by his story.

“No one (on the park board) wanted to react to that letter,” Stephens told The Landmark. “Now, they may want to help and that’s admirable if they want to do that but I wanted to react to the letter and nobody wanted to do it.”

Stephens said that at the meeting, nobody indicated that they wanted to volunteer for the project.

“I heard nobody saying they wanted to volunteer. The discussion was ‘are we going to respond to the letter?’and the letter was in our packet.”

Recent mayoral appointees and current board members Bart Bradley and Marsha Clark did contact The Landmark the week after the story appeared. Bradley said he would be willing to help the mayor by volunteering in the park and Clark stated that Stephens only presented one side of the story for the article. Stephens, however, said that no member of the board had called him to refute or take issue with the story as it appeared in The Landmark.

The mayor and Stephens have not been able to meet due to scheduling conflicts. When contacted by The Landmark, Brooks refused to comment on Stephen’s remarks, again claiming that the letter was a simple communication attempt that solicited volunteer help and had no ulterior motives.

In the meantime, Stephens, who is up for re-election as board president on June 7, had advice for future communications from the mayor and the board of aldermen.

“What I would like from the board of aldermen is for them to…if they have a request, give it to us. If they have a direction they want us to go, tells us what they think. But don’t come up and tell us ‘this is what you’re going to do.’ That’s when I get defensive,” Stephens remarked. “(The park board) was sold to be a board independent of city hall.”

Earlier, a presentation given by Chris Tathum of the ETC Institute reported on findings the company gathered during a survey of Platte City citizens during the past month (see related story in this issue). While the survey generally reported high marks for the city and its services, parks and recreation was repeatedly singled out in the survey as an area that needed attention from city officials.

The survey specifically spoke to dissatisfaction with the city’s public pool facility and lack of walking and biking trails in the city. In general, however, satisfaction was up from the previous survey conducted in 2002 with 64 percent of those surveyed saying they were satisfied with park maintenance as opposed to 54 percent two years ago.


The mayor just 'wrote me a letter'
by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

Not since The Box Tops performed the 1967 hit of the same name has a letter affected so many in Platte City, even though Mayor Dave Brooks’ letter doesn’t have a beat and you can’t dance to it.

Whether or not you believe it was an attempt by the mayor to gain more control over the park board and their sizable budget or just an “innocent” communication, there is one thing that cannot be disputed: the letter did a poor job of enlisting enthusiastic support and camaraderie from community members.

From the mayor’s very public temper tantrum over the reporting on the story, to the alleged rift among members of the park board, to the angry editorials written in The Landmark Newspaper and a Platte City shopper publication, the event can hardly be described as a political master stroke from the mayor.

For those that missed the original story that inspired Brooks’ ire, here is a brief look back at the letter:

The letter read as follows:

“Since the inception of the ‘pocket park’ volunteers community wide have donated material, equipment, and most valuable of all their time. We are writing to inquire as to what extent or what amount of time the park and recreation board (the members) are willing to give in the creation of the park.”

Stephens said he felt insulted by the mayor’s attempt to single out a board that had volunteered countless hours at working on Platte City park planning.

“That’s not the position of this board,” a fiery Stephens told The Landmark. “If (Brooks) wants to count the volunteer hours of this board, I’d be happy to show them to him. How can he try to force a volunteer board to volunteer their labor?”

Stephens pointed out that at this phase of the park’s creation, real tradesmen were needed to complete construction, remarking that the “board is not a concrete pouring, steel reinforcing, unskilled labor pool,” Stephens remarked. “If Brooks wants us to have (the park project), give it to us, and we will proceed like all the parks that we have master planned in the past.”

This week, Stephens took the time to discuss the matter more in depth with The Landmark (Brooks declined comment):

The Landmark: How did you want to react to the letter?

Dick Stephens: I think that not reacting was the best way to go. I’m not very politically correct, normally. I think that was the best action.

L: Have you heard from the mayor since?
DS: Not a word.

L: Have any of the aldermen contacted you about the letter?
DS: (Shaking his head) They’re a pretty tight knit group.

L: Do you think the letter was an “innocent” letter?
DS: No, I do not.

L: Why do you feel that way?
DS: Based on the information I received about him talking about us, about wanting us to “get our fingers dirty,” in public, and the tone of the letter and the fact that all six of the aldermen signed it. I was totally taken aback. Not one of those (aldermen) warned me that this was coming. And I took the tone of that letter as — and other people who have read the letter — as not being ‘innocent.’ Now if my board did not see it that way, they didn’t tell me.



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