MANSFIELD -- A divided Mansfield City Council on Tuesday approved the inclusion of Newman Street Park in legislation to divest 10 park properties to the Richland County Land Bank.
Council voted 6-2 to approve the overall park divestiture, moments after it voted 5-4 to defeat an amendment that would have removed the park from the plan.
The proposal, first discussed by council in January, is aimed at reducing the number of parks, thus allowing the city to focus its resources on improving on the 22 remaining park properties.
Before voting on the plan to move the 10 parks to the Land Bank, City Council voted 7-1 in favor of a resolution approving and supporting the $29 million master parks plan.
6th Ward Council member Jean Taddie, who announced Tuesday she is leaving council to accept a new job, cast the lone vote against the $29 million master plan, introduced in January but put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Ohio in March.
Eight council members deadlocked on the amendment to protect Newman Street Park from the plan, requiring council President Cliff Mears to cast a tiebreaking vote, opting against removing it from the list.
Council members voting to remove the Newman Street property from the list were Laura Burns (1st Ward), Alomar Davenport (4th Ward), Jean Taddie (6th Ward) and At-Large Councilman David Falquette.
Voting to reject the amendment were Cheryl Meier (2nd Ward), Jon Van Harlingen (3rd Ward), Jason Lawrence (5th Ward) and At-Large Councilman Phil Scott.
Taddie and Falquette were the two "no" votes to the overall divestiture list vote.
Taddie had asked that four of the parks be removed from the list -- Newman Street, Hamilton, Betzstone and Julia Underhill. She focused the bulk of her comments on Newman Street, saying children in the neighborhood use the basketball court and playground equipment there.
Taddie said parents have told her they will not allow their smaller children to make the hike to Liberty Park by themselves.
"I would like us to consider the timing," Taddie said. "If we give (these parks) away now, they are gone as parks forever. If we choose not to give some of them away now, we could always choose to do so in the future."
If council had voted to amend the legislation, Land Bank manager Amy Hamrick said that organization's board would consider the revised list in November.
"It would have to go back before our board. They approved it as a package," Hamrick said. "I honestly believe they will accept it as amended, but I can't say that for sure."
Parks and Recreation Department manager Mark Abrams reminded council the divestiture plan was introduced nine months ago.
"Now we want to sit down and discuss it. That conversation should have been held between January and now, in my opinion," said Abrams, who has said the parks department must "reduce its footprint" in order to maintain improve and maintain other more-utilized properties.
Mansfield's Parks & Recreation Department operates on an annual budget of $816,000, all of it derived from the PRIDE income tax levy, first approved by voters in 2013. It generates about $3.7 million annually, with 50 percent going to the police and fire departments, 22 percent to parks and recreation, 20 percent to building demolition and eight percent to lighting.
Three residents submitted letters opposing the plan to divest all 10 of the parks.
"While some of the proposed closures make sense, taking away play areas from children, many of whom are no longer getting play time at school due to the pandemic, seems very shortsighted. I understand there are budget issues. But where is the oversight of the Parks Department spending?" asked Maple Street resident Sarah Russell.
Mansfield resident LaTonya Palmer especially opposed closing Newman Street Park.
"I suggest rethinking the master plan and work on ways to keep some of the neighborhood parks open, namely Newman Street Park, that is safe for the children in the neighborhood. The children in that area are more likely living in poverty," Palmer wrote.
"In many low income communities, parks may be the only place for children to be physically active. Physical activity is important for children’s development but only if they can reach them. Parks can only reach their full potential if every household can access them," Palmer wrote.
In an email to council members Tuesday, Abrams explained the numbers behind the Newman Street Park plan.
"The playground equipment there is at least 20 years old and in need of replacement. To replace the equipment will cost us $160,000. Liberty Park, which is right down the road, has playground equipment that is four years old," Abrams said.
"In addition to the equipment, the basketball court also needs to be repaired which would cost $8,000. Liberty’s basketball courts were resurfaced this past summer. Total cost to repair Newman Street Park, which would include a new basketball back board and hoop, would be in the neighborhood of $170,000," he said.
Abrams said that money could be better used in parks, such as Liberty, that are used by more people. "If we want good quality parks, we must either reduce the number of parks or increase the budget for the parks department," he said.
5th Ward Councilman Jason Lawrence agreed with Abrams.
"Mark came back with a great assessment on what it would take to get Newman Street Park up to par. Why not use that $170,000 on Liberty? I am in agreement we should give up Newman Street Park," Lawrence said.
Before approving the master plan for the parks, a blueprint that will take years to implement fully, council members made it clear that the administration would have to come back before council for any projects with a price tag of more than $50,000.
"(Approval of the plan) doesn't mean we are giving Mr. Abrams a blank check," said Burns.
Van Harlingen said, "Just because I support this plan doesn't mean I approve every single thing in it."
Before council adjourned, Davenport said he wanted to recognize the city administration, especially Safety-Service Director Lori Cope and police Chief Keith Porch, for their handling of a complaint against an officer who dragged a handcuffed Black teenager during an incident Oct. 12 on West Fourth Street.
A bystander recorded video of the incident, which showed the arrest of a Black Mansfield man and the 17-year-old, reportedly the man's son, who was reacting to the adult's arrest.
Porch announced Monday Officer Jordan Moore, 24, had been suspended without pay for 60 working days, which began Tuesday and continues through Jan. 11.
"Officer Moore’s response was found to be improper which resulted in the misapplication of force used on a person that was handcuffed, in custody and offering no resistance," Porch said in announcing the disciplinary action.
"It is comforting for our community to know that our administration will step up and do what is right in these difficult times," Davenport said. "I wish such suspensions on no one -- because it means one of our citizens was wrong and our already short-staffed police department is missing an officer."
The incident came two weeks after the Black/Brown Coalition and the City of Mansfield signed a new "Code of Conduct" aimed at guiding the relationship between the police department and city residents.
"It's important that the community realize the Code of Conduct is not a one-way street," Davenport said. "The community must take heed and understand this."
Lawrence agreed, saying the administration did "a fine job in a very challenging situation."
Cope thanked council members and others who reached out to the administration.
"It goes to show that the Code of Conduct we all got together and signed is more than just words and fluff," she said. "When the rubber hits the road, we showed can we put our money where our mouth is. (The Code) worked out exactly as we hoped and I want to thank you again for your support."
In her final meeting as a council member, Taddie said it had been been an honor to serve the residents of the 6th Ward. She was appointed to council in January 2019 to complete an unexpired term, then was elected to the position in last November's election.
"I am happy to say during these times of COVID and unemployment, I have landed a great job supporting our community's transit system," Taddie said.
"If future council meetings go a lot shorter without me, I am sure it will be because of the new voting software, not because Jean stopped asking all those questions," Taddie said with a laugh.
In other action Tuesday, City Council:
-- approved a resolution honoring telecommunicator H. Lee Robinson, who retired Tuesday after more than 32 years of service. Robinson was hired by the Mansfield Police Department as a dispatcher on July 8, 1988, and transferred to the public safety communications center, including the Mansfield Fire Department, as a telecommunicator in May 1991.
-- approved a resolution honoring Mansfield Police Department K-9 Officer Ferro upon his retirement from the department and approve legislation allowing the dog to remain with his handler, Officer Joshua Frech. K-9 Ferro is a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd who came to the department in August 2017, working in patrol and narcotics operations.
-- approved an ordinance approving the appointment of Ron Abrams to the City of Mansfield Board of Tax Appeals.
-- approved a project that will allow improvements at Carrousel Properties in the public right-of-way at 80 W. Third St., granting a license to install concrete, planters and canopies in the right-of-way on North Weldon Street and West Third Street. Carrousel Properties will pay for the improvements.
-- approved the three-year renewal of the city's Transient Occupancy Tax, also known as the "bed tax." The 3 percent tax is shared with Downtown Mansfield Inc. and Destination Mansfield.
-- voted to authorize Public Works Director Dave Remy to negotiate a new "drop zone" lease near Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport that is used by the 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard.
-- heard an update from Remy on the city-wide water meter replacement effort. Remy said about 3,500 meters have been installed and that 14 teams of installers are doing about 70 per day. He also said the company hired to do the work is scrapping old meters for the city, an effort that has earned the city about $8,500 in brass salvaging.
-- voted to extend the city's 3 percent bed tax through 2023. A portion of the revenue goes to Destination Mansfield and Downtown Mansfield, Inc.
Council, which continues to meet in virtual session due to the pandemic, meets again Wednesday, Nov. 4, the day after the election.