For many Newton Park Board members, there has been a major issue with lack of communication. The last board director, Denny Slings, did not get along well with members, and at Thursday afternoon’s park board meeting, Newton’s Mayor Mike Hansen was in attendance and addressed the concern.
“You guys are in charge of the parks,” Hansen said. “Citizens can come to you and suggest things. If there is something that is on your mind about the park facility, you’re in charge of bringing those issues and discussing them among yourselves on what you believe is best for our park system.”
Board member Bruce Showalter was concerned about what power the board actually has, noting that, in the past, they felt very unguided.
“The parks director, at that time, was not happy with that situation,” Showalter said in reference to the board being formed in years past. “The first year (that) we were in existence we only met six times, because we couldn’t figure out when we were going to meet. A lot of it was (that) the former parks director did not want anything to do with us.”
Showalter said, at one point, the city administrator ran a few meetings just to keep the board active. He felt the board had no direction and the former director did not care about them, and he hopes that this year things will change.
“We felt that we had no power, no money (and) no authority,” Showalter said. “All we did was show up at meetings, and talk about stuff and ask for things to happen without any real input. That was frustrating. I just think that we were the red-headed stepchild.”
Mayor Hansen was quick to respond to his concern.
“Let me assure you (the board) that you are not,” Hansen said. “You are an important part of the public works organization. You are an important piece. You are valued in your work as it pertains to the park program.”
Showalter and past members went out to the streets to raise money for events since Slings denied them request for funding. Members even resorted to cold calling. This year, Showalter hopes to make the Fourth of July fireworks show an all-day event, including live entertainment, rather than solely a fireworks display.
Board Chairman Nathan Unsworth brought concerns to light for the mayor, such as the fireworks display.
“I understand we had some growing pains, and we had a little confusion on where our role was,” Unsworth said. “We were kind of given the fireworks display. With no budget to market anything for that, it was very difficult to get the money for that.”
Unsworth is hoping to see some money set aside for the parks. One of the park board’s most recent projects was the disc golf course, which has seen success. Even Hansen complimented the project.
In addition, the board welcomed new member Amanda Price, who is also president of the Young Professionals of Jasper County.
“I lived here my whole life, and I am really excited to be on this board, and hopefully provide some good ideas for the parks and some fun things to do in town,” Price said. “I’m anxious to get started.”