2012-01-04 / Opinion

Is armory board necessary?


I write in response to Jackie Dwinal’s Dec. 30 letter to the editor titled “Keep armory board.”

On Dec. 7, 2011, the Bath City Council voted unanimously to spend $308,000 to bring the former National Guard Armory Building, now owned by the city, up to code to be used as a new home for the Bath Skatepark and Youth Meetinghouse (The Park) and for other public use.

The council also voted five to four to approve an order removing management of the armory building from the Bath Parks and Recreation Department and forming a new board of directors. This evening, the Bath City Council will consider a motion to rescind that order.

I feel they should approve this motion to rescind, for the following reasons:

— A new board creates a new layer of bureaucracy, probably requiring a new operating budget. Are the directors to be paid?

New expenses ( such as salaries) become overhead, e.g., they in some manner divert funds from the actual project(s), whatever those might be.

If not, what is their motivation to serve? How many directors should there be?

The suggested Bath Customs House model does not involve youth or social services. It does not seem to exemplify minimal taxpayer impact, which I think we all agree is something the new armory operation in whatever form it takes should work toward.

What powers would a new board have to act without city council approval? What then, is the best model?

— The Recreation Department staff is familiar with the day-today operation of The Park. They know the kids. They’ve been involved with the remediation work and conducted the code study at the armory, so they know the building.

— The Recreation Department staff and The Park’s current board of directors are familiar with The Park’s revenue streams, including: Bath Iron Works gate collections, the annual Chili-Chowder Fest, pancake breakfasts, all- night Skate- AThons, May Fair events, skate competitions, the skate shop, concessions and various other fundraising functions.

They are familiar with regulations and insurance requirements relating to The Park’s activities. They understand The Park’s space requirements, and how changing those could enhance or jeopardize user fee generation.

— Some of the Recreation Department staff has had first aid training. They’re familiar with police department personnel and procedure. Close communication here is essential from the point of view of anticrime initiative.

— The Recreation Department, as manager of the city’s athletic fields, is in regular contact with Regional School Unit 1.

I expect that the new location next to the Bath Middle School and athletic fields will require rules more in line with those of the RSU, and I see no one in a better position to put those policies and procedures into place.

— What means will be used to evaluate alternative and or additional uses? The Park’s board has discussed various uses on many occasions.

Despite what some may feel, it is not my opinion that the board has been married to skateboarding, nor does it want “exclusive use of the armory.” Skateboarding, however, has been the activity for which users are willing to pay.

Will sufficient space in the armory building be allotted to skateboarding?

— If at a future point the Recreation Department does not work out as the oversight body for the armory, the City Council always has the means to make a change. The City Council also has the means to determine the amount of the annual subsidy to The Park if, in fact, there is to be one.

In summary, it seems sensible to me to leave the armory oversight under the Recreation Department at least for the time being. Their experience will be invaluable in getting the new operation up and running, and will probably work fine over the long run.

The Park’s present, experienced and very capable board of directors can, and should be expanded. They’ll welcome help. The idea would be to build on what exists.

Finally, Ms. Dwinal states, “The display of arrogance by Steve Balboni of the Recreation Department at the last meeting was uncalled for. This decision is one to be made by the council, not the recreation department.”

I was present. I witnessed no display of arrogance. The motion to form a new board was inserted into the agenda at — not before — the Dec. 7 meeting.

From what I could see, no one on the council other than perhaps Kyle Rogers, who inserted the item into the agenda, was prepared to debate it.

Public comment was not allowed. The council waived the procedural rules to allow Mr. Balboni to speak briefly, which he did albeit without preparation. I’ve worked as a volunteer with Steve often. Arrogance is not his nature.

He, and The Park’s executive director, A.J. Reno, have done an excellent job of minding the welfare of the kids and the financial interests of the city and its taxpayers.

I certainly hope, as many others do, that they and The Park’s volunteer board are able to continue. Let’s slow down, build on what we have and get this right.


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