BUCKHANNON – City council on Thursday voted to scrap an ordinance establishing a Buckhannon Parks and Recreation Commission, citing concerns that, as written, the document would have given a newly formed parks-and-rec advisory board too much power.
At its April 7 meeting, council approved on first reading Ordinance 456, which calls for the creation of a city parks and recreation commission and outlines its composition, authority and governing procedures.
However, at its April 21 meeting, members voted to table the document on second reading at the recommendation of city attorney Tom O’Neill. O’Neill said after reviewing the section of state code that applies to city parks and recreation commissions, he wanted to revise the ordinance so it would better reflect council’s intentions.
Council had voted to create a seven-member, all-volunteer Buckhannon Parks and Recreation Board of Directors at its March 3 meeting after gathering input from the city’s Planning Commission and hosting a Feb. 23 public meeting to solicit public feedback.
Citing Chapter 8, Article 21 of West Virginia Code, which pertains to boards of parks and recreation commissioners, O’Neill said he was concerned that, as the ordinance was written, it would have given the board more authority than council had intended.
“I would respectfully ask that you consider tabling that for tonight,” O’Neill said. “Reviewing state code, I think there may be some unintended consequences to the draft as it exists right now. Specifically, there is an article in State code … Chapter 8 Article 21 … that establishes boards of parks and recreation commissioners … and that code vests very, very wide-ranging authority to the commissioners, much more than I think the council intended in creating [a board].’”
The city attorney said that the current draft did not align with council’s wish to create a simple advisory board – not an independent entity.
“My understanding of council’s intention for this parks board is to create an advisory board, not an independent corporate entity,” O’Neill said. “It could generate its own revenue … hire and fire people, and I don’t think you want that.”
O’Neill said he planned to add disclaimer language stipulating that the body is an advisory board to city council, “not an independent entity, which is essentially what a board of commissioners would be.”
According to the version of the ordinance in Thursday’s council packet, the seven-member volunteer board could adopt or modify parks and rec policies subject to council’s approval; recommend the hiring of full- or part-time employees as well as capital improvements; establish policies regarding the use of city parks and the Stockert Youth & Community Center; and negotiate agreements with donors.
O’Neill said he would rewrite the ordinance so a first reading could potentially take place at council’s first meeting next month, set for May 5. Mayor Robbie Skinner said that would still allow for the creation of the board by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
“We’re still well within the time frame of doing that, even by going back to the drawing board,” Skinner said.
Skinner said council members did not need a motion to table the issue but could simply agree to tabling it, which they did.
In other news, O’Neill said the Planning Commission at its meeting April 18 had recommended that city council amend the city’s zoning ordinance to explicitly permit condominiums and other unit property within Buckhannon’s R-2, or residential, zones.
“Currently, the ordinance allows apartment buildings and boardinghouses and dormitories and all kinds of things, but condominiums or unit property are not listed on there,” O’Neill said, “so, the Planning Commission is recommending to city council to include condominiums within the R-2 zone.”
The first reading of that amended ordinance may take place as early as May 5.