City leaders and those at the Park Board of Trustees are in accord on little about a draft contract intended to consolidate and clarify their 56-year-old relationship, except the draft itself needs clarification.
The draft interlocal agreement, a contract between public bodies, emerged last month after a year-long review of city-owned assets managed and operated by the park board.
The review and resulting document are meant to update and streamline a working relationship that began in 1963 and has evolved through a series of agreements struck between various city councils and park boards empaneled in the half-century since. The goal was to improve accountability and transparency and eliminate redundancies in ways benefitting both organizations and their constituents, city officials have said.
Both the review and the draft agreement were greeted with suspicion and hostility among park board leaders, who have seen in the effort a move to undermine their autonomy and marginalize their organization.
And while park board objections to the draft document have been broad, they can be exemplified in a single clause and a definition proposing a $10,000 threshold on park board spending, exactly what spending being matter of confusion and conflict.
The draft states the trustees must seek Galveston City Council approval for any “new capital improvements” on city-owned assets under park board management, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“A new capital improvement is defined as ‘replacement of an existing asset or asset portion valued at $10,001 or more’ with the intent to change the city-owned asset beyond its normal state of repair,” Barnett said.
Exactly what expenditure would require city council approval is not that clear in the actual document, however, Carla Cotropia, the park board’s attorney, said.
“It talks about the $10,000 for any repair,” Cotropia said.
Park board and city staff need to discuss and clarify the document, she said.
“The document to me is confusing about $10,000 needing to be approved or not,” Cotropia said.
It became apparent city and park board officials and staff disagree on the interpretation of the $10,000 clause after two articles by The Daily News mentioned the draft’s phrasing.
In articles on Oct. 31 and Nov. 14, The Daily News reported City Manager Brian Maxwell said the draft stated the park board would need to seek city council approval for spending decisions of more than $10,000.
Both park board and city representatives have agreed the draft interlocal needs more clarification and continued editing.
The document has created much misunderstanding, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
“In my reading of the document, there’s nothing in the document that requires approval by the city of those items that are over $10,000,” Brown, the council’s liaison on the park board, said.
A statement about $10,000 only appears in the definitions section outlining capital repairs and improvements, he said.
Both the city and park board must talk more to clear up the confusion, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
The city and park board have separate financial departments and the city council does not need to approve the park board’s annual budget, both city and park board staff said.
The park board manages several parks owned, leased or under the care of the city, including Stewart Beach, R.A. Apffel Park and beachfront property between 61st and 69th streets, according to the city code of ordinances.
An ordinance passed last year required city council approval for any park board repair or maintenance expenditures on city assets of more than $125,000, according to the city code of ordinances.
Confusion about the draft agreement’s meaning have continued since city staff shared the document with park board staff last month. The draft document has not been publicly released, but The Daily News has filed a request under the state’s open records law for the document.