STOW — City Council and the mayor appear to be at odds over both the makeup and size of a committee that will be tasked with making recommendations on the installation of a playground and other features on the city center property.
Council on Sept. 12 had voted 6-0 to form a committee to make recommendations on how the city should rebuild, replace and locate a park or playground to take the place of SKiP (Stow Kids Playground) playground and to examine other potential components at the city center site on Louis A. Dirker Jr. Boulevard. The committee can have up to 18 members. SKiP was torn down in 2018 after then-Mayor Sara Kline said the site had "significant safety hazards."
Mayor John Pribonic on Monday then vetoed council’s passage of the 18-member committee legislation, explaining that a nine-member playground committee already exists and has "spent countless hours" working on a play trail/playground and splash pad plan. The committee members, who generally come from the city’s boards and commissions, volunteered to serve on the advisory body a few months ago, Pribonic said.
"By starting over or dropping any of the current members of this committee, the city will lose the time that has been spent by these volunteers and add delay to this project not only in planning but also fundraising," wrote Pribonic in a letter to council.
Pribonic said council would need five votes to override his veto. Council member Mike Rasor (At Large) said he anticipates that council will attempt to override Pribonic’s veto at the next meeting on Thursday.
The legislation passed by council amended a measure passed in July that called for the appointment of 15 people to the committee. Rasor said that after the 15-member committee was approved in July, he learned that there was already a nine-member playground committee that had been organized by the administration; he and council then decided to pass new legislation that would increase the size of the committee so that the current committee members would be invited to join.
Rasor also noted that the 18-member committee legislation approved by council would allow Pribonic to appoint the nine current committee members to the expanded committee.
The committee that was approved by council on Sept. 12 would include at least nine, but no more than 18 members and would not have automatically included the nine members who are already on the committee. This proposal would call for the council president to appoint three council members and three separate applicants, and the mayor to appoint three members from the administration and/or parks and recreation board. The remaining four to nine committee members that would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council would be residents who are not employed by the city and "have some experience/background in parks, splash pads, playgrounds and civic development projects or reside in a neighborhood adjacent to the city center project," the legislation stated.
The legislation also stipulated that the committee should not have more than two members from the same city board or commission.
Pribonic is asking council to approve his alternative proposal for a 28-member committee that would include the nine current committee members, nine more new members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council, three members of council, three members that would be appointed by council, three members of the administration and the mayor himself. This legislation was also before council on Sept. 12, but council did not act on it after voting in favor of the 18-member committee proposal.
Pribonic said after council approved the 15-member committee in July, he selected nine more people he would like to appoint to the committee. His proposal for the 28-member committee would allow him to appoint these nine members that he’s already chosen.
"This [28-member committee] …will be able to share their ideas and input and bring this endeavor to fruition for our residents’ enjoyment," wrote Pribonic.
The mayor said his proposal for the 28-member committee will be on council’s committee agenda Sept. 26.
Rasor noted that no one on council made a motion to vote on Pribonic’s 28-member committee proposal and said he does not expect council to favor it when it comes before legislators again at the next meeting. He characterized a 28-member committee as "very unwieldy," and added, "It seems like that would be tough to get anything done with that many people at the table."
Regarding Pribonic’s wish to appoint the nine additional members that he selected, Rasor said Pribonic may have to make "some difficult decisions" when he chooses which of the nine would not be included. Rasor added that anyone from the group of nine who is not selected could "potentially go into city council’s pool [of applicants]."
How the initial committee was formed
Parks and Recreation Director Linda Nahrstedt said the administration organized the playground committee, and noted the body consists of members of the city’s boards and commissions who volunteered to serve. She said the city had a visioning workshop in June that included about 40 people representing the city’s commission on inclusion, the parks and recreation board, the senior citizen commission, the arts commission, the school board and the Stow-Munroe Falls Community Foundation. About 20 people from that visioning workshop volunteered to serve on one of two committees: a steering committee and a playground committee.
While the administration did not seek prospective committee members from the general public, Pribonic noted he encouraged the nine playground committee members to gather ideas from residents.
"They have done that," said Pribonic.
Nick Wren, the city’s director of public service, said the members of the boards and commissions are asked to "represent the public. These are people from the public that have volunteered and wanted to serve the community. We want to take advantage of that."
Nahrstedt added the city will host an event sometime after the first of the year where ideas being considered by the committee will be presented to residents for their feedback.
The steering committee is not currently meeting, but the playground committee has met on a regular basis for the last few months, said Nahstedt. The next playground committee meeting is Oct. 2.
Rasor said the committee was formed "without advising" council and noted he felt the committee "should’ve been formed with council’s input."
Amphitheater idea on hold
Pribonic said the plan is to have the "City Center come to life for the residents of our city to use and enjoy next summer." The mayor emphasized that the city center project would need to be approved by the planning commission and city council.
An amphitheater was also initially envisioned for the city center parcel, but the idea is on hold while officials focus on moving forward with the play trail/playground and splash pad, said Pribonic.
Funds were being raised for the amphitheater project during the last few months, but Pribonic said the city contacted the amphitheater donors, and all of them agreed to have their money pay for a play trail and splash pad instead.
Wren said four organizations have pledged a total of $275,000 toward the project and noted the combined cost of a play trail and a splash pad is estimated at $1 million.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.