Photo by city of Austin
Friday, January 29, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Parks board asks Council to update rules for naming facilities, features

The city will change its rules for naming parks and the amenities within them, in a move to increase equity and add more public input to the process commonly used to honor community leaders.

The Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously this week to ask City Council to update the city ordinance covering the naming process for parks facilities and features. The recommendation includes language to encourage naming parks after historic, geographic and cultural features, with a preference for naming features to honor local personalities instead of naming an entire facility after a person, except in cases where that person donated parkland.

The recommendation also asks for a more robust public engagement process with clearly designated cost estimates to be paid for by the parties leading the renaming efforts.

The changes were suggested because of concerns that the process and timelines for names are unclear, and that the parks department is often asked to cover the expenses associated with renaming, which can run up to $10,000.

The board discussed the recommendation at its December meeting and opted to rework the guidelines, initially including an outright move away from naming facilities after people. That would still be possible under the guidelines of the recommendation, which will need to be reviewed and converted into ordinance language by the city’s legal staff.

The December discussion focused on the equity issue concerning major financial donors to the parks being honored with renamings, creating an imbalance and preventing volunteers and other community contributors from being recognized.

“The concern that we’re trying to address was that there’s been so much discussion in the last few years about how to recognize people in our community for their service, and what has happened to some of the previous names or requests for names because of past histories of these individuals,” Board Member Francoise Luca, who helped conceive the changes, said at the time.

“What we’re suggesting is that we move forward with having very large facilities to be named for geographic, historic or cultural landmarks and then use our parks features like perhaps a basketball court or a specific feature within our parks to recognize folks in our community.”

Board members pushed back and said individuals other than land donors should still be eligible for facility naming honors. The language approved Tuesday includes a provision that honorees would need to be retired from full-time employment for three years or deceased for two years before the renaming could take place.

“When I read this … that you could only name a park facility for an individual that deeds land to the city for a facility or contributes some large amount of the cost, and that’s the only person that can have a park facility named after them, that doesn’t quite read right to me,” Board Member Sarah Faust said in December. “I don’t know if it’s the same if you can just name a splash pad or a basketball court after them, if that’s the same level of recognition.”

On Tuesday Faust also questioned language suggested for the ordinance that attempted to clarify board members’ discretion to vote against a renaming even if all requirements of the new guidelines were met. She ultimately supported the recommendation with the suggestion that city legal give special attention to that passage.

“I think the intention of that clause was to ensure that the naming process was transparent and that it wasn’t going to be used for some kind of other goal,” she said. “This was truly meant to honor someone for their work and dedication to the parks system.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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