Dunwoody city officials are trying to decide how best to get advice on what the city should do to improve its parks and recreation programs.

The problem? Too many opinions and too many advocates with strongly held opinions.

During Dunwoody City Council’s Jan. 14 meeting, Mayor Mike Davis asked members of the council what they thought would be the best way to engage citizens to get advice on the city’s parks.

“I don’t know the right answer, but I think it’s something we, as a city council, have to consider,” Davis said.

Councilman Terry Nall said the issue arose during debates over the location of the dog park in Brook Run Park. Also, he said, after the voters rejected a bond issue for park improvements, the city has to move “incrementally over time” to improve parks and will need to consider advice from residents.

But council members appeared to reach no solid consensus on what to do.

Their discussion centered on whether the city should appoint a citizens board to advise city officials, create a subcommittee of the council to handle parks issues or continue periodic meetings between the city parks directors and the heads of organizations that operate programs in the parks.

In a memorandum to the council members, City Manager Warren Hutmacher listed advantages and disadvantages to having a parks and recreation advisory committee. Disadvantages outnumbered advantages two to one.

The advantages he listed were that the body would act as a conduit to stimulate public involvement, would be a potential advocate for parks and recreation funding, would vet proposed policies prior to the council’s involvement and would be able to provide advice to the city’s parks staff.

The disadvantages he listed were that the group could cloud who was in charge, could be perceived as a political tool, could lead to other advisory commissions for other departments, could conflict with other city boards, and could conflict with the goals and planning of organizations that now provide parks and recreation programs.

Councilman Doug Thompson said that “parks are my passion,” but he opposed putting together a citizens advisory board to deal with parks and recreation issues.

“I’m against a citizens parks board for a lot of reasons. We will get special interests who want to be on a parks board…,” he said. “We have to be very careful about who we get. What we learned from park planning is that what a perfect park is for one person is not what a perfect park is for another.”

Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch expressed concern that such a board would be divisive. “I am afraid that we will be setting up a committee of citizens who will be at each other’s throats,” she said.

After the discussion, Davis said it appeared the council had rejected the idea of a citizens advisory board.

“I’m glad we cleared that off the table,” he said. “I don’t know how many emails you get, but I get a lot of them from people wanting to be on a parks board.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.