NEWBURYPORT — A day after pulling his Parks Department merger plan hours before the City Council was scheduled to vote, Mayor Sean Reardon said he has no timetable for when he will resubmit the proposal.
The mayor’s plan received a favorable recommendation from the Committee on Neighborhoods & City Services last week. But the proposal received criticism from City Councilor at large Bruce Vogel and prompted the creation of the Friends of Newburyport Parks group, which is concerned about the plan.
Reardon also received harsh criticism for terminating former Parks Director Lise Reid.
“I definitely will not rush anything back,” the mayor said. “I think we have had a lot of great conversations and we have a pretty good idea, especially after the Committee on Neighborhoods & City Services meeting last week. We know where some of the councilors are at and we know some of the things they thought the plan was lacking that might get them onboard.”
Reardon said he is still excited about his plan, which calls for moving the Parks Department under the management of the Department of Public Services and eliminating the parks director position, but added that he doesn’t intend to bring it back unless he knows everyone involved supports the proposal.
Vogel said he congratulated the mayor for making a good decision Tuesday but added that he believes Reardon did not have the votes to approve the proposal.
“I think it was about 6-5 in favor at one point in time but I’m not sure how the mayor or the community would have felt about that. The mayor ran on a platform of ending what he called divisiveness and then he’s going to put something in front of the council that’s only going to get a 6-5 vote? I don’t think that’s what he had in mind,” he said. “If this is a step toward taking things a little bit more collaboratively, that’s a really good thing.”
Reardon said he also believes he had a 6-5 vote, either way, on Tuesday but his plan should be one that everyone can get behind.
“This is a plan that I think is going to put our parks in a better position to succeed. But, at the end of the day, we thought that we didn’t want it to pass 6-5. I don’t think Bruce will ever vote for it, but I would like to see it pass, 10-1, or 11-0,” he said. “By taking this pause, it gives us a path to getting there.”
Vogel admitted that his problems with the mayor’s plan can make him look “curmudgeonly.”
“I was not a fan of the proposal but, I have also said, if it turns out to be advantageous to the city, so be it,” he said.
Council President Heather Shand said in a text message she was glad the mayor will continue working on the parks reorganization plan.
“Continuing the public process to further fill in the details will get us to a plan the full council can support,” she said.
At-large Councilor Mark Wright said he was ready to vote in support of the mayor’s plan Tuesday night but he was surprised by the chief executive’s decision to pull the proposal.
“There seemed to be support for the plan as it was. I imagine something changed between the (Committee on Neighborhoods & City Services meeting last week) and yesterday,” he said.
Wright added that he believes the mayor’s proposal will improve before it heads to the council again and he also expects to be in favor of it at that time as well.
“It’s a little frustrating because we have invested quite a bit of time into this process and the public has weighed in,” he said. “But hopefully, there will be consensus around what is presented next and I think things will continue the way that they have in the meantime. There has also been a lot of positive developments when it comes to the cooperation between DPS and the Parks management, so, from that point of view, it is working.”
At-large Councilor Afroz Khan said in a text message that the high level of public discussion of the issue has underscored how vital the city’s parks system is as a historic, economic and recreational asset.
“I applaud the mayor’s decision to pause the plan and work cohesively with various constituent groups and stakeholders to restructure holistically and comprehensively in a way that will support the success of our parks,” she said.
At-large Councilor Connie Preston said in an email that the mayor’s plan is a “positive step forward for parks in Newburyport” but added that process is important and she is “thrilled the administration has chosen to take the time to gain broader feedback before finalizing the plan.”
“The plan with broader community input will put Newburyport in a much better place than we were before,” she said. “No one, especially the administration, wants Parks to fail,” she said.
At-large Councilor Ed Cameron also said the mayor’s pause was a good move.
“This will allow time to get the relevant stakeholders together so the mayor can make the best decision going forward,” he said in an email. “While cost cutting is a worthy goal, I am most interested in the long-term quality of our parks. I support strengthening parks maintenance, which I think the DPS connection accomplishes. I continue to believe that there needs to be a director-type position to focus on strategy, short- and long-term planning for the parks, as well as the many facets of community engagement, including staffing the Parks Commission.“
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.