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Making a rec out of politics

It’s time for a time out in the newest sport to hit Marion County politics: a “you-know-what”-ing match over what’s supposed to be a cooperative venture between the city and the school district in Marion.

We don’t mean a time out in the sense of players regrouping on the sidelines and conferring with those urging them on. There’s been too much of that already. What we mean is a time out like when a bratty preschooler is ordered to sit in a corner after whaling on a sibling.

The rules of the game are a bit confusing. Basically, the schools built and operate what replaced the old city pool. The city, in return, is supposed to pay for half the project’s debt and operating costs and to let the schools use its nearby ballparks.

Until recently, cooperation reigned, resulting in first-rate opportunities for young people to do whatever it is they do when not studying for classes. Bright and shining faces regularly use the pool, gymnasium, and ballparks to learn sportsmanship and friendly competition.

With all that goodness shining on young faces, you might expect some of it to reflect off on older, supposedly wiser faces of appointed and elected officials.

Alas, the only lessons they’ve apparently learned involve playing games with taxpayers’ money and engaging in showmanship rather than sportsmanship.

Details of what set off the latest encounter are so arcane we doubt a slo-mo replay and outside rules analyst could shed much light on them. Suffice it to say the schools hired an additional employee that the city refused to help pay for, followed by the schools’ dredging up all manner of old bills to demand payment for, followed by the city twice — by minority majority votes — refusing to pay. The majority became a minority because half of the city council’s members get paychecks from the schools and therefore cannot vote.

Attempts to get the parties involved to talk to one another have been met with personal animus and attempted legal maneuvering. One side reportedly so distrusts one particular official from the other side that it has warned against one-on-one discussions with the person. The other side has huddled — supposedly with its lawyer, so it could avoid public scrutiny — and created what are alleged to be secret documents outlining its case.

Meanwhile, rumors — aided by the lack of open public discussion of the matter — are flying. Trying to do our due diligence to check out one of them — which we learned was unfounded — resulted in recriminations being shouted at one of our reporters by an official who then threatened never speak to anyone from the newspaper again.

The pool, gymnasium, and ballparks were intended to benefit children, not to be things over which adults can behave in a childish manner.

Eventually, we suspect, the current dispute will be resolved, but underlying issues will remain.

The City of Marion is home to far more people than live within its city limits or pay city taxes. All three of the county’s quasi-cities — Eastshore, Pilsen, and the county lake — have Marion addresses but are not within its city limits. Instead, they have local improvement districts — one step below official incorporation.

Add to that the preponderance of government-owned and therefore tax-exempt property in Marion and you can see why city officials might be quick to anger, even if such behavior should never be encouraged in public life.

What’s needed in Marion is what’s already working for Hillsboro, Peabody, and Goessel — a recreation district that encompasses more than just the city limits.

Many of the kids using Marion’s facilities live in one of the quasi-cities surrounding Marion or in Florence, where the school district extends, or even in the adjoining Centre school district. Surely formation of a recreation district encompassing those areas would relieve a lot of tension and quite possibly improve recreational offerings.

In comparison to Hillsboro and Peabody, which operate with recreation directors who serve only on a part-time basis, Marion has far fewer recreational opportunities despite paying for what essentially is a full-time rec director, who at various times has had parks, tourism, and defunct chamber of commerce duties added to her job portfolio.

In the near future, someone will give in and end the current “you-know-what”-ing match, but wouldn’t it be wise for all of us to unite behind the idea of uniting and propose creation of a recreation district that could provide better service and fewer opportunities for unproductive disagreements.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Feb. 10, 2021

 

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