Geoff Folsom

Geoff Folsom

One of my favorite things to cover at The Missourian has been the Union Park Advisory Board.

The board has no official power, but its meetings are always interesting. In fact, you could say stories that originate at park board meetings tend to be the backbone of the Union section since I get so many out of them.

Parks Director Chad Pohlmann always does a good job explaining the issues to the board, which is made up of residents appointed by the mayor. Then the board members have it out, arguing their positions, sometimes for 20 minutes or more.

But it doesn’t drag on, because board President Suzy Curnutte will bang her gavel and move on to the next topic if the discussion meanders. Curnutte would be on my long short list for people who I think would be a good choice as Union’s next mayor (if it were up to me).

Stories that originated with the park board meetings have caught the interest of readers, too. Recently, stories on a coach wanting to tear down a towering tree because it drops branches on the sand volleyball courts and on the cancellation of baseball and softball tournaments have been in the top 10 most-read stories on The Missourian’s website.

It is refreshing to see the park board’s deliberative nature. Too often, public representatives are given a proposal by the staff from the city/county/school district, and they basically rubber stamp it with little or no discussion.

Pohlmann gives the park board information but makes it clear the ultimate decision is theirs (at least temporarily, as they can be overruled by the board of aldermen). I never thought that hearing people argue in April about whether to have an indoor or outdoor Christmas party would be interesting, but it was.

Unfortunately, the park board has a big problem. It is supposed to have 12 members, so seven have to attend a board meeting to have a quorum, allowing them to make decisions.

And some members miss a lot of meetings, so they often have trouble reaching a quorum.

Sometimes, they go ahead and meet even without enough members for a quorum. Because some of the members who aren’t coming wait until the last minute to notify staff they aren’t going to make it, the people who do show up are already there, so they figure they might as well have some kind of meeting.

They aren’t allowed to vote or take official minutes when they lack a quorum, but they still have interesting discussions that can result in stories. The board didn’t have a quorum in April, and I was shocked it was able to narrowly have one in May, when the park board meeting was held at the same time as Union High School’s graduation (in which at least one board member had a child graduating).

The graduation of a child is one of the few things I can understand missing a meeting for a board I’ve committed to. But there are some members who seem to miss quite a bit.

Parks Program Coordinator Angie Breeden often spends the minutes just before the meeting calling or texting board members to see if they are going to show up. I remember one once responding they would come if they really need them for a quorum.

So you are admitting you can come, but you just don’t want to unless absolutely necessary? It’s nuts.

In recent months, two board members have called it quits because they don’t think they will have time to attend meetings due to commitments with their job. One of them, David Parsons, had been attending the meetings but left because his work schedule was about to get more hectic. The other one (whom I won’t name) I don’t even remember seeing at a meeting.

Either way, they did the right thing and left, so people who (hopefully) can attend the meetings can join the board.

Parsons’ position was filled by Christian A. Dunn, who attended his first meeting last week, which is a good start. The other position is still vacant.

Let’s hope that whoever fills the position takes it seriously and actually shows up. Almost everybody uses park facilities in some capacity, whether it’s coaching baseball, walking the path or attending the annual rummage sale. So as long as they attend the meetings, almost anyone could provide a valuable perspective.