Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser says he stands for these things. Yet last week, the parks board he appointed straddled those ideals and dropped a steaming load on them.
On August 28, Board of Parks and Recreation Department commissioners trashed a well-organized citizen effort to set aside part of Sunnyside Park in Waldo for use as a dog park.
Some quick background: Kansas City prizes its parks and boulevards, but the system functions better on paper than it does on the ground. Too many parks just aren't very useful or inviting. Earlier this summer, Funkhouser appointed a new parks board and told it to improve people's satisfaction with the parks. In its first real test, the new board has failed.
Of more than 200 city parks, only one, Penn Valley Park, has a place for dog owners to take their pets for off-leash exercise. Nine months ago, Deb Hipp (full disclosure: She's a former Pitch writer but she hasn't worked for the paper since 2003) began organizing the effort for Dog Park No. 2.
Waldo seemed a good place for it. Rectangular-shaped Sunnyside Park has tennis courts, ball diamonds and a spray ground. But dog owners say that they and their furry friends are the park's most frequent visitors. The day before last week's parks board meeting, midtowner Diane Bulan counted five canines and three humans at Sunnyside Park. "We're the ones who are using the park and we want to use it legally," Bulan tells me.
Hipp put in countless hours on behalf of the Sunnyside dog park. She enlisted volunteers, circulated petitions, found sponsors and held raffles. An architect, Jeremy Schlicher, came up with a design that strived for environmental friendliness as well as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plan looked appealing to me. In fact, a few months ago, my wife and I gave $10 to the cause (even though we live in Raytown).
On August 20, a parks official informed Hipp that the department was prepared to move forward with a public hearing on the Sunnyside dog park. Hipp and her supporters had reason to believe that the parks board valued their input. When the new commissioners took over on June 12, they made a point of moving the public-comment part of the agenda to the beginning of their meetings, so that, they said, citizens wouldn't have to sit through administrative minutiae and recognition ceremonies before having a chance to speak their minds. Now, the parks board claimed, the public would come first.
Last week, that turned out to be a lie.
A new dog-park policy, which effectively disqualifies Sunnyside Park from getting one, was slammed onto the agenda at the 11th hour. It wasn't posted online. Hipp says Mark McHenry, the parks director, wouldn't share the new resolution with her when she called the parks department for more information.
When Hipp and others arrived for the meeting, the board president, John Fierro, told them that the board would not accept any public comment on matters related to the new policy, which says dog parks belong in large "regional" parks such as Swope Park.
The 30 or so dog-park supporters who learned what was happening in time to attend the afternoon meeting were outraged. Hipp interrupted Fierro to express her frustration.
"You're totally changing the rules of government to put through an amendment that is going to totally cheat us out of our chance for a public hearing, and that is just wrong," Hipp said, sounding more shocked than belligerent.