Social and Political Commentary

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Does our city government have a Department of Secrets?

... many aspects of new Athletic Field Complex lacked public participation, discussion

by Joe Sullivan


Malden high school running track. Why do they need another one?
On July 23, 2010 Travis Lovettís story in Melrose Patch related that the Melrose Park Commission at City Hall's request had approved twenty-five thousand for a
feasibility study to be conducted at Pine Banks Park. The study was to examine the
proposal to: (1) build a regulation running track that would surround a synthetic-
surface athletic field, (2) to rebuild a softball field that the athletic field
would displace and to (3) add additional parking to accommodate the expansion of
facilities which would be built at Pine Banks.

The study was being done, according to Melrose Mayor Dolan, at the request of the Board of Trustees of Pine Banks which oversees this facility and is shared by
Melrose and Malden. The new additions were represented as something needed by both
communities.

At the time of the study, Melrose had a running track located at the high school
field. Malden not only had an outdoor running track at MacDonald Stadium but an
indoor, banked, running track at Roy Finn Gymnasium, located inside Malden High
School. All of these facilities have lockers and showers for competing runners.

Malden just recently was in the process of refurbishing the Roy Finn Gym along with
some extensive building and remodeling to the high school. Why anyone would think
that Malden would need yet another running track is difficult to understand.
Melrose, too, had a running track at Melrose High School field. Why would Melrose
need two running tracks, both outdoors?

Building a Mount Hood track was discussed by Park Commission in 2009

Those were questions never asked at the time, and the possibility of building an
outdoor running track had been examined before. That was in the summer of 2009 when
the Park Commission was conducting another $25,000 feasibility study to expand the
recreational opportunities at Mount Hood. A number of alternatives were examined one
of which was construction of a regulation running track that surrounded a synthetic-
surface athletic field.

Whichever alternative was chosen, its cost would be borne by revenues from the golf
course, an arrangement that was possible because it would be built at Mount Hood
and, consequently, not violate the provisions of the Massachusetts State Law that
required that money generated at Mount Hood must be spent at Mount Hood.

The reason given for including the running track option was that the running track
at Melrose High School field was not regulation size.

Any option of adding an athletic field in any configuration at Mount Hood was
intensely opposed by neighbors. Their views were presented to the Board of Aldermen
at a meeting that was held to approve funding of traffic and terrain studies
involved with adding the field. The Aldermen approved the funding but had to
repeatedly remind the objectors that the Board was not approving the building of the
field but approving a study requested by the Park Commission.

The athletic field projects were tabled when the costs required to build the field
were prohibitive.

The running track at High School field was eliminated in plan for a new
Athletic Field Complex


The reasons for examining the running track became evident later when in September
30, 2010 the Board of Aldermen approved the expenditure  for yet another feasibility
study. This one, costing $51,500, described  a total renovation to the High School
Field which included building a new softball field and a new football field with an
artificial surface. The study  made no mention of a running track. The new plan
would eliminate it.

What the above history shows is that the reasons given at the 2009 Park Commissions
meetings for building a running track at Mount Hood, or for building it at Pine
Banks werenít the real reasons.

The real reason for building a running track at either place was because the new
plan for the renovations at the High School Field eliminated the running track and
the City had to find a place for it.

It would not be hard to conclude that the new plan for the High School was being
concealed while the City was exploring its options for relocating the running track.

Relocating the running track was a big problem for City.

The running track has been the tail that wags the dog. If the City had told why
Mount Hood and Pine Banks were being considered for a running track it would have
involved exposing the intention for the complete renovation that was planned for
Melrose High School Field. This would have involved answering questions as to how
much would the renovations cost and how or who would pay for them.

This would be answered at Mayor Dolanís Press Conference less than a week later on
October 4, 2010.

The Mayor described the changes involved in the complete renovation of the High
School Field and the modifications which would take place at Pine Banks where the
running track would be relocated and upgraded to regulation size. The track would
surround a synthetic turf athletic field. There would be new parking area for 175
cars.

The anticipated costs for the High School Field would be between $3.5 and $4
million. The anticipated cost for the Pine Banks project would be $3.5 million. This
total would be split between Malden and Melrose with $1.5 million provided by each
city. The remaining $500,000 would come from a grant that had been already provided
by the State.

All the money Melrose would provide for the new fields, both at the High School and
Pine Banks, would come exclusively from excess Mount Hood revenues. This would be
possible because of new special legislation which would be approved by the Aldermen
and the state legislature and the governor. The special legislation was approved by
year end.

What should be noted about the above process is its speed and what had been left
out. It left very little time for the public to examine what was happening and to
ask questions about what was going on.

Park Commission participation left out of feasibility plan approval process.


The Aldermanís approval and payment of the $51,500 feasibility plan for the major
renovations at the High School Field is an example. That process eliminated the
participation of the Park Commission who was supposed to have approved the intiation
the feasibility study first and then ask the Aldermen for approval of the
expenditure.

This was not only a failure to observe the process of government, it also cut off
any discussion that was bound to have occurred at the Park Commission meetings where
it would have been discussed.

Why was running track not included in the renovation plans for the High School
field?


Nobody, for example, got to ask why the running track which had been part of the
then current High School Field had been eliminated in the new plan. Nobody was able
to ask some of the real simple but personally important questions like, ďMy son is
on the track team. Will there be any lockers and showers for him to use at the new
Pine Banks running track?" (The answer would have been 'no').

Another question that could have been asked was why special legislation was needed
from the state to spend Mount Hood money? The answer was that the current state law
forbade using money from Mount Hood for anything but expenditures that occur at
Mount Hood.

What the new special legislation comes down to is setting aside all the laws that
kept the City from taking money out of Mount Hood and allowing the city to spend it
on athletic parks.

Approval process lacked public participation and discussion.

What should be noticed about the approval process is how it avoided the forums that
would have subjected it to public scrutiny. The Mayor said at his press conference
that he would seek approval of the Aldermen for the special legislation necessary to
initiate the plan for the his athletic field complex.

The Mayorís presentation was on the morning of October 4; the Aldermenís approval
came on the evening of the 4th. No time was provided for public questions.

The approval process of the special legislation at the State Legislature was always
described in the press as something that was being done by the Mayor. But when the
legislation was approved, it turned out that Senator Tom McGee was the presenter of
the legislation and Senator Richard Tisei and Representative Katherine Clark, along
with Senator McGee, were the sponsors.

These people are all officials elected by Melrose voters. When, at any City meeting,
were these officials cited as being involved in the special legislation process?
What opportunity did any Melrose citizen have to petition them? As voters and
taxpayers arenít we entitled to know who is involved in establishing the laws that
will govern us?

What is the City's obligation to its citizens?

At the heart of whatís gone on is the question of what is a Cityís obligations to
its citizens? For example, when the running track was being discussed at Mount Hood
wasn't there an obligation for the City to say why itís being discussed? If the
reason is because the City was planning a High School renovation that excluded a
running track, doesnít the City have an obligation to reveal this to the people whom
it will effect?

Isnít the same thing true, if it involves a running track at Pine Banks?

If the City knows the reason and doesnít divulge it, isnít this information being
kept secret? Who decides when and what will be kept secret?

It should be kept in mind that the special legislation isnít about providing money
for a new athletic field complex. Itís about allowing the city to take Mount Hood
money for any athletic field construction.

With this new special legislation the City will be looking to take money from Mount
Hood that it wasn't allowed to take before. To believe that the City will only take
excess money generated by the Mount Hood golf operation is wishful thinking. The
City has already reduced a $105,000 golf course expense that was budgeted for 2012
and reduced it to $35,000. The reason was to provide for a $62,000 payment
associated with the athletic field complex.

Given the above circumstances, it will be important to know what the City considers
to be its obligations in revealing its future intended plans for Mount Hood money.

Golf Course Manager contract will be rebid next year

A very large issue is evolving. Next year the Park Commission will be accepting bids
to determine what company will manage the golf course. The City is obliged to do
this every five years, if the course is to be operated by a management company.
Despite the City's published numbers, total annual revenue at Mount Hood exceeds $2
million. The golf management company gets, and earns, a very large percentage of
this.

The Park Commission has developed an effective bidding process to determine the
manager. There is talk circulating that the City is considering eliminating a
manager and either running the course itself or selecting a marginal performer who
would work at significantly less cost than a true manager.

This is a significant issue and deserves a process unlike the one used for for the
athletic field complex. The City should be open in its intentions. It should be a
decision that embraces public discourse.




October 7, 2011











       
 



    



  

  

      



  

       
 



    



  

  

      



  


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