City Park play stations, now you see 'em, now you don't?
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Pictured: Photo by Judith Pannebaker
By all accounts, the play stations installed in Bandera City Park geared for pre-schoolers and toddlers have proved successful to all but the city elected oficials.
For former City of Bandera Councilman Brandi Morgan, the purchase and installation of play stations for pre-schoolers in City Park was an uphill struggle. Finally, her dream came to fruition last July when five colorful, instructional play equipment made their debut.
During the now-infamous Thursday, Jan. 9, meeting of Bandera City Council, newly minted Councilmen Suzanne Schauman and Glenn Clark ham-handedly attempted to dismantle the play areas.
Schauman's agenda item stated: "Removal and storage of all playground equipment in City Park until it can be relocated and installed according to US Consumer Product Safety Commission Standards." It served as a companion piece to Clark's item: "Improperly installed and improperly located playground equipment in Bandera City Park."
Waste of taxpayers' $$$
During the citizens to be heard section, Susan D'Spain Kammack said she and her 2- and 4-year-old children use the park and the play stations several times a week. "I was planning to rent a pavilion for a birthday party, but I won't if the playground equipment is removed." She decried that fact that the equipment had been installed for less than a year and now plans call for its removal and storage.
"What a waste of taxpayers' money," Kammack said. "Families were overjoyed with the installation of the playground equipment and now our confidence is shaken." She predicted that Bandera would soon be a "western ghost town."
Kammack also warned Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemire, who also serves as director of the Bandera County Public Library, that her son would be asking Hegemier every Wednesday at story hour, "When are we getting our playground back?"
'No comment' & unstacked council
From the onset, Schauman declared, "I'm not against playgrounds, but I'm opposed to dangerous equipment, which is what we have. I did not intend to abolish the playground, but I want to have the equipment removed and be made safer during winter when it's not so busy." She added, "We have to fix what we have."
While preparing this article, the Courier contacted Schauman to ascertain what dangerous equipment she had noted in the equipment at City Park. In reply, Schauman said, "I'll have to take a 'no comment' on that. There's not much to talk about. They're going to add more mulch."
On Jan. 9, Glenn Clark assumed the mantle of playground dismemberment, offering an often hard-to-follow narrative that included "misinformation on social media" and "asinine newspaper articles," as well as charges that Morgan had "lied" about the cost of the equipment and its installation. After mentioning Morgan's name several times, Glenn Clark hastily backpedaled, saying, "I'm not trying to place the blame on Brandi or anyone. I'm just trying to get the facts out."
In a My View published in the Thursday, Jan. 16, edition of the Bandera County Courier, Morgan offered a lengthy rebuttal of Glenn Clark's major contention - that the equipment was "not installed as okayed by the park planner."
Councilman Nita Jenkins' main objection was that the play stations were placed too far apart making it difficult, in her opinion, for children to interaction socially with one another "while the mothers chatted."
Hegemier and Councilman Jim Hannah advised leaving the equipment in situ, as Hannah put it, "... in the holistic interest of the city." He noted that the park planner (Paul Barwick) was also against removing the equipment.
According to City Administrator Mike Cardenas, John E. Sanchez, a senior investigator with the enforcement division of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, had inspected the playground installations on Oct. 25. Sanchez's assessment showed only that access was needed from the sidewalks to the playground. In an email to Cardenas, Sanchez noted: "I believe the ramp can be purchased by the same company who made the support walls as well."
In an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 14, Sanchez called installing the ramps from the sidewalk to the playground "a quick and easy fix" to the equipment's only discernable problem.
On Jan. 9, Mayor Don Clark advised Cardenas to "just buy (the ramps)."
Cardenas also expressed concern that the play stations could be damaged during removal - invalidating company warranties. He suggested having Barwick, a consultant with the Economic Development Corporation on the park project, to work with the planning and zoning commission to review the playground design and make recommendations.
'Grateful for approval'
In response, Morgan pointed out that Barwick had, in fact, assisted with the equipment's installation. As she wrote in her My View: "Before leaving the site, [Barwick] shook my hand, patted me on the back and congratulated me on a job well done. I was deeply grateful for the approval from a man of his expertise."
Offering his opinion, municipal attorney Monte Akers said, "My primary concern is whether the equipment represents a danger." Evoking the doctrine of sovereign immunity, he suggested that if the equipment poses a risk, the problems should be fixed or barricades or signs posted.
The website nolo.com defines sovereign immunity as "a legal principal making governmental bodies and employees immune from being sued in their own courts without governmental consent." However it also notes: "The legislature can, and often does, carve out areas where this immunity will be waived. Apparently, sovereign immunity is null and void if it is proved that steps were not taken to correct an existing situation everyone considered unsafe.
The only other problem that seems to have occurred is the removal of antennae from the bug play station by vandals. According to Cardenas, the missing antennae are currently en route from AAA State of Play in Indiana.
After Glenn Clark suggested adding more mulch around the various play areas, discussions about removal of the play equipment concluded. The hard-fought installations will remain just that - installed.
More to come
That was the original last paragraph to this article. However, an incident that bears watching occurred in City Park on Jan. 17. An account of the proceedings that involved Mayor Clark, Glenn Clark and a hapless grasshopper will be published in the Thursday, Jan. 30, edition of the Courier.