The Fresno Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission met Monday night to discuss park projects that are in development or slated to start next year.
“This is where I’m really confused. I feel like we’re not doing as much as we should. Maybe we need to get more training from our City Solicitor on our roles again because it’s really confusing, I’m back to square one when I thought I was at square ten. — Maiyer Vang, Fresno Parks Commissioner
However, several commissioners said they feel frustrated and confused because they are not always consulted on park projects and purchases.
And, in the case of the $6.5 million purchase of the Tower Theater which will tap into parks sales tax funding for $3.6 million, several commissioners said they were approached by residents asking why Measure P funds were used for the agreement.
“I still don’t know what the answer is when I talk to members of my community who are concerned about this,” said Commissioner Mona Cummings, who represents District 6. “Is this the most appropriate way to spend the funds from Measure P and has there been any community input in addition to what we (already) see in terms of media coverage?”
Commissioners ask for more comments
Cummings said she was uncomfortable with the theater buying process because it was completely separate from the commission. Other commissioners accepted.
Commission chairwoman Kimberly McCoy said the commissioners should have been told about the deal before the Fresno City Council voted to acquire the theater. McCoy represents District 1.
Commission Vice Chairman Jon Dohlin, who is the executive director of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, went on to ask the city attorney why the purchase was made without input from the commission.
“There are times when projects are brought in for our input, and then there are times like this where they’re done without our input and then presented to us for information,” said Dohlin, who represents District 3.
City attorney’s office defends purchase of tower
Deputy City Solicitor Raj Singh Badhesha said the city council was well within its rights to make the purchase decision. The council, on a 4-3 vote, approved the purchase of the theater on April 21 in a controversial decision that followed months of debate over the venue’s future.
“Consistent with the authority under the budget resolutions of the charter, it is possible, in certain limited circumstances, to move money for consistent purposes,” Singh-Badhesha said.
“In this case, we are talking about the purchase of a community center. As long as the money set aside for the purchase of a community center is used for the purchase of a community center… then the council and the administration (are) well within their authority.
He said the commission had the opportunity at last year’s annual city budget meeting to provide input on park plans and purchases.
Deputy City Manager TJ Miller agreed to have additional conversations with the commission and brief them when decisions such as the purchase of the tower are made.
“It was in mediation. We also did not participate in these mediation meetings,” Miller said. “Decisions were made by our board, and they approve our budgets and how much money we spend and make recommendations and so on.”
“I can’t say that we can always get ahead and present to you because sometimes these things happen in real time on the stage.”
Will other projects be impacted? City hall says no.
PARCS Director Aaron Aguirre said $3.6 million in Measure P funds would be used for the purchase, with the rest coming from other city revenue sources.
Commissioner Sarah Parkes, who represents District 6, asked if future park projects would be affected by the tower’s decision.
“I don’t understand how we can say that a park, a green space, a football pitch, a pickleball court or a volleyball court is the same as buying a historic theater and that the money could be moved like that,” Parkes said.
Aldi Ramirez, deputy city manager, said no park plans would be canceled as a result of the council’s decision.
“There aren’t any projects that don’t move forward because of that,” Ramirez said. “There are funds that are not being used and they are using the remaining funds for this purchase.”
Commissioners question their roles
District 5 Commissioner Jose Leon-Barraza said he was more concerned about how the process was being handled than why the city decided to purchase the venue.
“We represent the community and therefore a community should have the opportunity to comment,” Leon-Barraza said. It may be the best project in the world, but the way it’s been run might actually diminish the importance of our role in getting the community’s views from different angles.
He said he understood both the roles of the commission and the city council, but thought the commission should have been involved in the process.
District 4 Commissioner Maiyer Vang reiterated Leon-Barraza’s point. He said the commission should have been informed of the decision so members could be transparent with the communities they represent.
“That’s where I’m really confused. I feel like we’re not doing as much as we should,” Vang said. “Maybe we need to get more training from our city attorney on our roles again because it’s really confusing, I’m back to square one when I thought I was square ten.”
About the Parks, Recreation and the Arts Commission
According to the Measure P website, commissioners are “responsible for ensuring transparency and accountability to voters by ensuring proper budgeting of Measure P expenditures.”
The commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the municipal council.