More than 50 people attended Jefferson City's Parks and Recreation Commission's meeting Tuesday, calling on commissioners to reinstate the Washington Park Ice Arena skating director after she was fired last month.
Rachel Bruemmer was fired as the Parks department's ice skating director Feb. 16, she said. She went through the appeals process and later received a letter stating she was still dismissed.
Parents and students said Tuesday the firing was due to an anonymous letter and video regarding an incident in December. Many said the items in the letter and video are either false or taken out of context.
"I don't know what's left other than to let the community speak to you and let you know what it is they are feeling," Bruemmer told commissioners. "Sometimes I've rocked the boat in the past and I'm pretty realistic about the fact I'm not perfect, but I did want to come tonight to thank (the public) for being here and stepping up for me and what I've done for the past 18 years for the Parks department."
Parents and students presented a petition containing more than 150 signatures, calling on the commission to reinstate Bruemmer as the ice skating director.
They said she has been a valuable asset to the ice skating community and has become not only a coach but a friend to many young skaters. Some added the firing will not only hurt Jefferson City's ice skating community but also the ice arena's revenue.
Parks Director Todd Spalding told the News Tribune after the meeting he could not comment on the matter but said with personnel issues, "there's always more things to a situation than meets the eye."
According to the Parks and Recreation Commission's by-laws, the commission cannot hire or fire a Parks department employee — only the director.
Commissioners seldom spoke during the public comments, as this is considered a personnel issue.
"This is a personnel matter so anything that is a detailed personnel issue, we can't really engage in too much," commission President Brad Bates told the audience before opening it up for public comment.
Parks Master Plan
Also on Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Commission finally saw a draft of the new Parks Master Plan after more than a year of waiting. They plan to hold a work session next week to discuss it further.
The plan lays out goals to improve the parks systems over the next 10-20 years, including adding new playgrounds, expanding the trails and offering other amenities.
Some of the changes include expanding recreation vehicle camping areas and dog parks at North Jefferson Recreation Area, replacing the community amphitheater at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park, adding and improving several playgrounds and shelters in various parks, including spray grounds and aquatic features in different parks, and expanding and adding trails.
Spalding stressed this is still a draft, and contractor Warner Nease Bost Architects Inc., from Kansas City, could still make changes after hearing comments from city staff and the public.
The last time a formal master plan was created for the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department was in 1952, according to the draft document. The most recent Parks and Recreation long-range plan was in 1996 as part of the city's comprehensive plan update.
WNB Architects compared Jefferson City's parks system to other similar cities: Columbia; Concord, New Hampshire; Dover, Delaware; Olympia, Washington; and Topeka, Kansas.
Jefferson City has the fewest parks compared to these communities but has the largest acreage of parks when reviewed per capita, according to the master plan draft. The plan notes Jefferson City also has the second largest acreage of open space compared to the other cities, which provides "great potential for parks expansion projects for the community."
These recommended changes are also based on city staff and community input, survey results, contractor observations, and parks and recreation trends.
The estimated cost for all of the suggested changes to the parks system is more than $100 million.
These amounts are estimates and will change, Spalding said, adding the commission will decide what projects it wants to pursue and when to move forward with those projects.
"What I want people to understand is with a full master plan, it takes all of your acres of land and it dreams as big as you could possibly dream, so I don't want people to get hung up on that (amount)," he said. "I know (what) certain folks will do is they'll get hung up on that. This is just simply a time to dream and take in everybody's options and put them on a piece of paper. Nobody is asking for over $100 million."
WNB Architects suggested the city's primary funding method for projects the Parks and Recreation Commission decides to pursue would be general obligation bonds, adding "this option would likely be the best option to generate the necessary funds for a full community-wide needed overhaul of the parks system."
The draft master plan notes the city could also look at program user fees, impact or other development fees, state and federal grants, and general fund tax dollars.
Last month, Spalding presented the commission with potential ways to fund these improvements. However, commissioners said in February they did not want to discuss those funding outlets until they had looked over the master plan draft.
City staff met with financial consultants Piper Jaffray and Company last summer and the main finance options suggested were special obligation bonds, Spalding said last month. This would require a dedicated source to pay the debt service.
According to a city memorandum, a $15 million project during a 20-year period would require more than $1 million annually for the debt service. A $20 million project would require approximately $1.4 million annually.
At least $1 million from the half-percent parks sales tax could be designated for the debt service, Spalding said last month.
In a city memorandum and memo, city staff expressed concerns for whether the Parks department could set aside that many dollars from the parks sales tax since it is currently used for everyday operations.
Commissioners said they wanted to hold a special work session to go over the master plan, what projects it wants to pursue first and funding options.
"We need a work session to determine what we want to do, what we want to allocate for the projects," Bates said.
Spalding said he would try to set up a work session next week.