Why Topeka's Parks and Recreation Merger Failed

By: From 13 News
By: From 13 News

TOPEKA CITY HALL -- Topeka City Council members heard details of the plan crafted by Councilman Bob Archer and County Commissioner Shelly Buhler to combine the city and county parks and recreation departments.

It was met with skepticism from Mayor Bill Bunten. He voiced his concerns that important programs long supported by the city, would be chopped out by the county under its control of the consolidated departments.

Bunten said Parks and Recreation is "one of the five big things we do in city government."

He said the city could best provide the funding and insure the future of the programs by hanging on its control, even though "the city has serious financial problems."

"The city has financial problems, the county has financial problems, the state has financial problems, Washington has financial problems," Archer responded.

He said "with all due respect," not combining the two departments would not insure the city or the county could keep those programs.

District 1's Karen Hiller called the Archer/Buhler plan "incomplete and open-ended," with no transferral document for a shift of funding for park trails or Helen Hocker Theatre. She urged that the issue be sent back to the committee as a whole, but that move was rejected.

Colleague John Alcala said it was a "situation of trust, and a problem with terroriality," and that the city and county would never get to the point that Hiller described as the best solution for both.

Language was inserted by city manager Norton Bonaparte, with amendments made by Council member Denise Everhart. But in the final vote, the city's agreement to talk to the county about the merger failed 5-4, needing at least six votes to pass through the governing body. Four other attempts at consolidation have failed in Topeka and Shawnee County.

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