Op Ed / D. Frank
Lack of leadership from Parks and Rec
No leadership, no accountability, no solution. The Parks and Recreation Commission's inaction continues to inflame an issue that has a responsible solution. Over the past many years, the issue around a "new leash law" in Darien has been a simmering problem that has never found a reasonable and rational solution. All that has seemingly transpired is a continual effort of a select few to drive their agenda with a combination of misinformation, unsubstantiated facts, and back-alley efforts to advance their agenda without open dialogue input from and compromise with all the effected parties. As a result, the rancor, mistrust and noise level has risen to a level that is both unnecessary and unproductive. In my opinion, the reason derives from the leadership, or lack thereof, from the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The reason I say this is a few months back during the November commission meeting, I suggested this problem seemed to have a rational solution: The interested parties were to meet privately to work on a compromise solution. As noted in the Nov. 17 PRC minutes "It was suggested that a term sheet be created for discussion and negotiation purposes." From there they could bring it to a public hearing where (had the parties negotiated in good faith) a solution could be formally adopted, and this issue could be settled once and for all. The acting chairman of park recreation, Charlie Goodyear, seemed to agree with this position.
Since that date, the Darien Dog Owners Group have presented two versions of a term sheet, first in December and then in January, with NO marked-up term sheet returned from PRC. This effort of the DDOG is recorded in the minutes from the December PRC meeting where it states: "Susan Graham presented a summary of DDOG's Terms & Conditions for the 10 parks and beaches in Darien." No term sheet, no discussion, no dialogue.
To make matters worse, just last week at the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, Goodyear put forth his white paper (which was first presented at the meeting) of his recommended solutions to the problem. He then went on to claim, in a most Solomon-esque manner, "No one is going to be happy with this but this is my list." He then went on to say (I think five times) "This is just one man's opinion." Taken in their totality, these types of behavior follow what is becoming a predictable pattern of lack of attention and arbitrary decision making.
Yet the story gets worse. A week before this most recent PRC meeting, it was learned that Goodyear and many other members of the Parks and Recreation Commission had apparently never even visited Woodland Park (a key hot button issue), needed a guided tour of clearly marked trails and had no idea of the topography, demographics or condition of the park.
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The Darien Dog Owners Group had spent innumerable hours investigating what other cities, towns, and communities both here in Connecticut; and around the country, have done to rationally and effectively address their dog/leash issues to the mutual satisfaction of the dog owners, the conservationist and the citizenry. The owners were prepared to present their finding at this most recent meeting only to find the commission chairman had already made up his mind as to "his list and terms of engagement" before even hearing the presentation by the Darien Dog Owners. Sitting in the room watching this happen I could only imagine how it would feel going to court and have a judge issue his ruling before the evidence had been presented. This is hardly a bright shining example of "representative government."
I am certain the chairman would claim his comment about; "It's only one man's opinion" keeps the floor open for discussion, but this flies in the face of any experience I have ever had serving on a Board. The reality is the chairman wields an incredible amount of influence in setting the agenda and the direction of Board deliberations. From my limited experience in watching the P&R Commission, especially as relates to this issue, I have seen more dialogue at a wake than what I have seen among the commission members. These types of action are directly contrary to a concerted effort to reach a compromise with all the interested parties especially when dealing with "public property."
The facts as relates to this issue are fairly direct, straightforward and a solution is entirely possible which would be consistent with everyone's goals and objectives.
"¢ The base reality is the dog owners in this town are not only responsible dog owners but good stewards of the lands which they visit. There is no evidence to the contrary. In fact, in some parks (Woodland in particular), one can make a strong claim they have made the park safer;
"¢ Having areas where dogs can run off leash has proven to reduce "risky behavior" notably in a town where the record of "risky dog behavior" is virtually non-existent;
"¢ The parks in town are each unique in topography, size, demographics and visitors. As such, there is no rational reason for a "one size fits all" solution. Cherry Lawn, Selleck and Woodland have little in common and should have reasonable solutions specifically tailored to their own uniqueness. This is why custom tailored, common sense regulations for each park work, NOT a town-wide, one-size-fits-all ordinance;
"¢ Other cities and towns (large and small, urban and rural) both in Connecticut as well as around the country have found reasonable and rational solutions that I believe would be amenable to the group representing the dog owners in Darien and I believe the citizenry at large.
As such, the simple facts remain. There is clear solution that can be achieved. The Parks and Recreation Commission has not exhibited the kind and form of leadership to affect a solution and by their recent actions have actually inflamed the situation. The Darien Dog owners have clear and common sense solutions and have offered on numerous occasions to engage in a constructive dialogue to reach a settlement. It's time for the commission to exhibit unbiased leadership, sit down with representatives from the key interested parties and negotiate customized, common sense solutions for each park and put this issue to rest once and for all.