Playing with Parks and Rec

by Melissa Brunner

On our Thursday news at 10 pm, we heard from Topeka City Councilman Bob Archer and Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler about their plans to bring forward a plan to consolidate the city and county parks and recreation operations.

I had a chance to visit with them about it. Both are fully aware this has been tried before - several times. What's different this time? They believe finances are forcing the issue. With the economic picture remaining gloomy for governments, both say the move makes sense. They believe it would save money and could improve service for all residents. I also asked Archer if having new faces on the council since the last vote in 2009 might also help swing things in his favor this time. He admitted that he's hopeful that will be the case.

Archer and Buhler took a bit of a different approach this time, as well. They consulted with community members and staffers from various departments. They say there are no plans to reduce staff or close facilities. They say they are assured there will be little to no impact on salaries and benefits to those who would move from being city worker to county workers. In the course of our conversation, they noted that both city parks and rec director Terry Bertels and county parks and rec director John Knight would have administrative positions in the combined operation, though Archer and Buhler declined to discuss the specific structure.

And that's the answer to the key question - who's in control? Their plan would have the consolidated operation under county control. Archer says he supports that structure from the logistical standpoing that all the parks are within the county, but not all are within the city. He believes it better for the department to function under the entity with the county-wide expertise. He says that and the financial aspect will be his pitch to his council colleagues on why this move is right.

Do you think it's right? And do you think the county is the right entity to run a merged operation? Public input is a large part of Archer's and Buhler's plan, so let them hear from you!




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