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Working group to examine changes in how to rename Austin’s parks facilities

Thursday, February 6, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

The Parks and Recreation Board has started the process to ask City Council to amend an ordinance that dictates the process for renaming parks facilities.

At its meeting last week the board voted 6-2 to form a three-member working group to research and recommend changes to the ordinance, which was last amended in early 2016.

The action was spurred by criticism late last year surrounding the move to rename the Dove Springs Recreation Center in honor of Travis County constable George Morales. December meetings about the renaming were marked by community members opposing the change (which was ultimately approved), in part because they said they were unaware of the renaming effort until late in the process.

“It seemed like to me that most of the frustration from the community members lied in the fact that they weren’t made aware of the nomination for the rec center, and it seemed like a lot of them found out the day before our meeting or the day of our meeting, and they just didn’t have time to give feedback or comment on that nomination,” Board Member Anna Di Carlo said. “I have some ideas about how that could be improved, and also have some questions about how the current rules are interpreted and applied for parks staff.”

Among Di Carlo’s suggestions was a longer and more robust community awareness process to make sure there isn’t a repeat of what happened in December.

Parks department Director Kim McNeeley said creating the working group will give the board the time it needs to explore all changes that should be made to the naming process.

“If there is a suggested amendment that the board would like to have to better clarify time frames, certainly I as the parks director and we as the team can move that information forward through the processes we have for Council to consider an ordinance amendment,” she said.

Another facet of the ordinance likely to be examined is the wording that prevents facilities named after an individual from being further renamed, even if the person disgraces themselves in some way.

Chair Dawn Lewis pointed to the city’s Lance Armstrong Bikeway as a public feature that would likely meet the threshold for a name change due to the former cyclist’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, leading him to be banned from the sport and erased from the record books.

“That is concerning because you never know when someone could do something nefarious and then you have his name up there in lights to stare at for decades to come,” she said. “In the ordinance it says that a facility named for an individual shall not be renamed.”

Debate over that aspect of the renaming process centered around the fact that the ordinance seems only to cover community-initiated renaming campaigns, and that Council at its discretion can rename a facility even if it has been named in honor of an individual.

McNeeley said clarifying the ordinance to make that distinction clear, or removing it altogether, would be another possible improvement for the working group to make.

“That causes a little bit of confusion because if you’ve been following the renamings that have occurred, some of them have been directed by Council to go ahead and do the renaming, some have been community-driven processes, and just recently we’ve seen some that have been a mixture of both,” she said. “I understand why there is not necessarily 100 percent clarity, and there’s definitely not been 100 percent consistency with how it happens.”

Photo by Palo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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