The Queque arrived late to Monday night’s Parks and Rec board meeting. Too late to witness the official resistance to the proposed Parks Police-SAPD reorganization promised in a July 20 email from District 3 board member Charles Bartlett, but early enough to catch a putsch on behalf of Lucky, the Zoo’s lone Asian elephant, and an overall atmosphere of uncertainty in the shrinking shadow of a pruned Parks & Rec staff and proposed budget cuts of as much as 6 percent (despite a growing greenspace inventory).
Elaborating on concerns he expressed in his email over the recent resignations of senior Parks & Rec staff, Bartlett asked who will be in charge of the linear creekway park system due to open in August now that Chief of Ops Richard Hurd has gone the way of former Director Malcolm Matthews (sans published scandal). “All it takes is one idiot with a mowing machine to undo 30 years of work,” Bartlett warned.
A representative speaking on behalf of the Conservation Society was concerned the City might undo 40 years worth of work (albeit some of it passive to the point of neglect) without consulting with the Parks board: Told by Interim Parks & Rec Director Xavier Urrutia that Downtown Ops czarina Paula Stallcup said there are no changes to the HemisFair Master Plan to report, a few board members reacted with suspicion. They’d heard there had been neighborhood meetings, and that architects have been pitching condos and retail for the space soon to be vacated by the Federal bench. (Perhaps they even read it in the Current; see “Court of last resort,” July 9-15.)
Just developer daydreams, reassured Urrutia, to no avail.
“We’re very concerned that the same thing doesn’t happen with HemisFair that happened with the Park Police,” said the Conservatione dame, where the Parks Board was not consulted before a solution was presented to the public.
That “solution,” which really just rewires the phone tree, according to Urrutia, may not sit well with some Parks board members, but the discontents failed to pass a resolution. They did arrive armed with a 2007 report and newspaper articles from Austin, though, in which a study overseen by the City auditor recommended against merging its Parks, Airport, and run-of-the-mill gumball po-po, citing “higher costs while creating organizational and human resource challenges.”
Urrutia’s take on the meeting was that once the City’s proposal, which includes the Airport Police, was explained, the majority of the board felt its concerns — primarily that a merger would compromise public safety by reducing the number of trained park police patrolling trails — had been addressed.
“It wasn’t so much a merger as a redirection of the Parks Police division to report to the Chief of Police under the SAPD,” said Urrutia. “The actual nuts-and-bolts details have not been finalized,” he added, and the board will still have a chance to weigh in. The daily reports a “complete proposal” will be presented to the Council’s Public Safety Committee August 13.
If there was a winner at Monday’s meeting, it might be Lucky, the 48-year-old solitary Asian elephant at the San Antonio Zoo, and the star of this week’s Beast Issue `see page 14`. District 7 rep Alejandro Soto raised Lucky’s plight — she’s been the subject of a slowly growing insurgency that wants her resettled at a Tennessee sanctuary since her remaining companion died last November — noting that the City holds the Zoo’s underlying lease.
“I see Lucky cooped up all day,” said Soto, adding that he helped relocate El Paso’s Sissy to the same pachyderm retirement resort. “Let’s send Lucky to Tennessee.”
“I know if I was that elephant and there all alone ... ” began District 1 rep Hector Cardenas, sparking a round of laughter. “That’s all I’m saying, let’s get involved.”
Urrutia moved to head off any real action, warning that it had to be posted on the agenda, but mayoral appointee Mark Trevino offered to write a letter of concern, and Cardenas summed up the sentiment in favor of letting Lucky live out her final years in the Volunteer State: “Who would it hurt?”