MOUNT PLEASANT — When village resident Kim Mahoney arrived at Mount Pleasant Village Hall on Monday, she sighed “Ugh, again?” upon realizing that the Committee of the Whole meeting was in closed session and the public wasn’t allowed to listen and observe.
The Committee of the Whole went into closed session for approximately 40 minutes to discuss a change to the village’s Joint Park Agreement, the contract between the villages of Caledonia and Mount Pleasant that governs Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park, also known as Franksville Park.
The proposed amendment, the details of which are still being hammered out by the two villages, would officially place full financial responsibility of the park in the hands of Caledonia and dissolve the Joint Park Commission that was made up of residents from both villages. Under the proposed new contract, Mount Pleasant would still be a co-owner of the park.
Rumors, which Mount Pleasant’s village board acknowledged Monday, had been swirling as word seeped out about the possible change: Was Mount Pleasant selling the park? Would it affect any of the park’s amenities? What could happen to the new beer garden, or the Kids Connection playground?
Mount Pleasant officials have even received an open-records request from someone concerned about the behind-closed-doors discussions, which the villages maintain was required due to the nature of the negotiations.
During Monday’s meeting, the board and village staff addressed those rumors, assuring the public that they shouldn’t expect to see any substantial changes coming to the park, that the park will remain open to all residents as its been throughout its nearly 70-year history, and that Mount Pleasant wasn’t selling the park. In fact, since 2013 Caledonia has been the fiscal agent of the park, which lies within the municipal boundaries of Caledonia.
“I don’t think that the citizens will see much of a difference, although I believe it will be improved,” Mount Pleasant Village Administrator Maureen Murphy said.
Juliet Primuth, a former longtime Mount Pleasant municipal clerk who volunteers at the park, said that “the public should have been notified months ago” about the possible changes.
“These negotiations were not really public until I notified the newspaper (The Journal Times) two weeks ago,” she said, which led to an article published Aug. 7 after the Caledonia’s Village Board conditionally approved an amendment to the Joint Park Agreement.
“If they (the village boards) hadn’t gone into closed session, there wouldn’t be so many people asking questions,” said Mahoney, who also is the final holdout to selling her family’s home to make way for Foxconn. “They’re doing this (going into closed session) less now than when all this Foxconn stuff happened, but I don’t know why they need to do it so much.”
Although he supported the change, Trustee Gary Feest acknowledged that the way the public found out about the proposed amendment left more to be desired.
“How this entire situation played out optically in the media and in the general public, from my point of view, could have been done a lot better,” Feest said. “But at the end of the day, what we’re actually doing — not necessarily ‘how,’ but ‘what’ we’re actually doing — I think it’s a step in a good direction.”
By giving Caledonia more control, Mount Pleasant officials say, they will be able to devote more money to the parks the village has within its boundaries.
“We like the idea of taking the money that we would otherwise be spending on the Joint Park and reallocating into our very-much-underfunded parks and parks programming that we already have,” Village President Dave DeGroot said. “From that standpoint, I really think it is a win-win.”
In April, Mount Pleasant created a full-time parks and recreation manager position.
The requested changes came after Jim Svoboda, who had been the park’s director and was officially employed by Caledonia, was accused of embezzlement and became the subject of a criminal investigation.
That situation led to the cancellation of Kraut Music Fest 2019. News of the investigation into Svoboda broke in April. As of last week, that investigation was still ongoing.
Svoboda answered to the Joint Parks Board, which was not part of the discussions regarding the proposed changes.
All-Breed Dog Show
Hundreds of dogs and trainers from around the midwest are traveling to Caledonia to compete in this weekend’s American Kennel Club (AKC) All Breed Dog Show. The show runs Friday through Monday, Aug. 9-12, at Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.