Brookdale Park recommendation results in heated discussion

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By David Meade

The Williamston Town Council meeting Monday got off to a heated start during the public comments portion when former Mayor Phillip Clardy addressed the council with comments about a police department grant and questioned whether the town followed their purchasing policy. Mayor Carthel Crout said he did not intend to get into a dialog with Clardy on the issue, but would address it outside the council meeting. (See separate story).

The meeting continued to heat up during discussion on a recommendation made by the town’s Park Committee concerning the Brookdale Park restroom project.

During the discussion, Mayor Crout pounded his gavel several time to get the audience to calm down.

A bid of $44,800 by Martin Builders, Inc. was approved by council during their January 11 meeting and the site plans called for the facility to be located where tennis courts were once at the park.

Councilman Tony Hagood, whose Ward the park is in, has pushed for the project since being elected to Council last year, and wanted the facility located where the approved site plan called for it to be.

The Park Committee recommended that the restroom facilities be located nearer the playground and picnic shed and the baseball field.

Kempie Shepard, speaking for the committee, gave four reasons why they felt the location should be changed including: The distance to the original site location being too far for older adults and children and that children would have to walk along the road to get to it.

Also placement nearer the ball field would be more convenient for people attending a game and a number of people in the community said they preferred the location being recommended by the committee.

Park Committee members supporting the recommendation included David Meade, Steve Ellison, Walter Smith, Sr. and Kempie Shepard. The town’s Parks and Recreation Director Dale Martin, who was also in support of the recommendation, chairs the committee.

Mayor Crout stated that the town had looked at a number of locations for the restrooms and that the bottom line is that Councilman Hagood is the councilman for that Ward and the decision should be his.

Hagood said that he did welcome comments and ideas from the committee and then brought up a number of issues he found at the park when he took office.

He said that he and the town Administrator found problems including leaves piled up at the picnic area, trash can racks that had been there since the 1970s, swings that were too high for small children and deteriorating basketball goals, some being held by only two screws. He also pointed out problems with a fence at the park.

He asked where the park committee was during this time and why they didn’t have the problems taken care of.

The mayor said it was not the committee’s responsibility to make the repairs in the park, but that the town’s Parks and Recreation Department should make sure the parks were in good shape and safe. He said the committee was there to make recommendations.

Councilman Mike Looper responded that the park committee had no more to do with cleaning and maintenance in the park than the planning commission has in taking down a building. He also said that Brookdale Park and Mineral Spring Park are not Ward parks but are public parks, which drew a show of support from the audience.

Park Committee Member Walt Smith, who has pushed an effort to get restrooms at the park even before the park committee was appointed, said that “the park was run down and the park committee got together and said we were going to fix it, and we did.” He also said that Brookdale was “not a ward park but a city park.”

Former mayor Phillip Clardy also spoke during the discussion. He said that during his time as mayor improvements were made at Brookdale including kudzu being cleared from the tennis court area and new playground equipment added.

He also defended the park committee, stating, “It was not the park committee’s fault for the oversight of the area.”

Park Committee member David Meade said the committee had been formed to make recommendations to the town for improvements and repairs in all of the town’s parks. He said the Brookdale restroom project had been at the top of the committee’s project list for three years.

He also stated that the committee was there to make recommendations to the town, but the ultimate decision was up to the council.

After making a motion to support the recommendation, Councilman Looper commented that several people had talked with him about the restroom location and he agreed that the recommendation “is a more sensible location.”

The mayor ruled Councilman Mack Durham out of order for speaking after Looper’s motion had been put on the floor.. but Durham continued with his comments.

Following the discussion, Councilman Hagood said he didn’t have to be right all the time and stated, “I will support the decision.”

The site location recommended by the Park Committee was unanimously approved with a 5-0 vote.

Brookdale Park is located off Bigby St. on Crescent Drive and includes a baseball field, picnic shelter, playground area and basketball courts. Porto-jons are placed at the facility by the town during events.