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Mitchell Park must be preserved for the public

posted Feb 24, 2015, 8:37 PM by Doug Roberts
Firstly, thank you to the North Fork Chamber of Commerce for hosting tonight's candidate forum. I enjoyed the dialogue with your members and it's clear we are all working toward the same goal- a better Greenport for a better North Fork.  

The issue of Mitchell Park Public Assembly came up and I was challenged by David Murray about my previous position on public events in the Park which, admittedly, has evolved over the last 6 or 7 months.  As a member of the public, I reviewed our financials and saw a lot of money going out of our treasury to pay for Mitchell Park and not a lot coming in.  I stood up at a meeting during the public hearing portion and said that I hoped to see us find a way to increase revenue out of Mitchell Park. I threw out the idea of possibly asking villagers- by referendum- for 5 or 10 nights a year when we could rent out the park to outside groups for exorbitant fees that would help to pay our Mitchell Park bills.  As member-of-the-public Doug Roberts morphed into Candidate Doug Roberts, I spoke with more and more people around town about these ideas and my conclusion was that my initial idea was not worth putting before the public for a referendum.  

Mitchell Park must be protected for use by the public. 

When you try to come up with creative solutions to a problem, sometimes your first ideas aren't the best ones. I am not running because I am perfect. I am running because I want to work hard to find solutions to problem and because, unlike our current VB, I want to listen to the public.  I talked to people, they shared their opinions, and I went back to the drawing board to find a better solution based on their feedback. This is how I will govern, and it will be a very different approach than we've seen the last 4 years, when our board votes 5-0 on every resolution despite any feedback the public can sneak in between banging gavels and restrictions on public comments. You also won't have to wait until 3 years and 11 months into my first term, when I am facing a challenge to my re-election bid, to hear me take a strong public position on an important issue facing The Village. My platform has been published on this site since I announced my candidacy in November: full transparency, a mantra of this campaign.

So let me be clear on my Mitchell Park position: We need a clearly defined policy for what can and can not happen in the park.  This board passed a moratorium on "non-Village sponsored events" after it got caught unawares by a religious group last summer that forced its way to hosting private event in our park with security guards who kept Greenporters out.  The current moratorium- in place since last summer- restricts all but "Village sponsored events" in Mitchell Park. How do we define a Village-sponsored event? The policy still gives vast amounts of leeway for The Village to decide what it is and is not sponsoring.  For example, at Monday's VB meeting, The Board voted 5-0 (of course) to allow The Maritime Festival's public assembly permit, but to deny a Shakespeare Company the right to perform in the park. So The Village "sponsors" a festival of pirates and beer drinkers, but doesn't support The Bard's works performed live for free on a weekend afternoon? 

It seems fairly simple to make a very clear policy: Public Assembly will be granted ONLY for events that are available for free to the public, provide cultural or educational experiences to Park-goers, and can not in any way be construed to be offensive to any parties.  This last bit is the tricky part.  An Art show is great!  An Art show that includes violence or nudity? Not in Mitchell park. 

As for the initial problem I was trying to solve- increasing revenue to pay our bills- our marina is not producing the profits it should. We need to look at the entire operation and figure out where the inefficiencies might be, we need to market the marina more aggressively, and we need to look at our pricing model and try to increase revenue. All options need to be on the table- including the option to lease out the marina to a third party operator. If the numbers work out better for The Village, why not?

Beyond this, I plan to work closely with the Friends of Mitchell Park, who tell me that they have been stymied by our Village Board with senseless regulations about who can pass around the collection boxes for the bands at Monday Night Dances. The Friends' mission is to see as many public cultural events as possible in The Park, as long as they are approved by the VB.  Having spoken with these folks, it seems they are eager to have an ally on The Board to work with them to increase the number and type of programs we can provide in The Park, and they may be able to help with funding. The Chamber of Commerce members tonight rightfully gave us an earful about how we need to keep activity in The Park going so we drive visitors and revenue for local merchants.  I say let's not stop at Monday Night Dances. The shoulder seasons (fall and spring) would be ideal to invite performing groups from high schools across Long Island to come and perform for the community on our stage.  The great thing about high school performing organizations is that they a) love to perform in beautiful places and b) bring parents and family members with them who need to go out to lunch or want to go shopping.  These events would be easy to pull off and would make Greenport an outdoor performance capital of LI- it just requires some effort and hustle to make it happen, and with your support I will get things like this done on your behalf.  

And, I've said this many times in my platform, in public addresses at VB meetings, and in various social media posts: we can't stop at Mitchell Park. Greenporters take their kids to 3rd Street and 5th/6th Street parks, too. Those parks deserve clean, safe facilities and bathrooms with running water.  Let's follow the leadership of Maritza Winkler and launch a 501(c)3 to support the maintenance and development of parks in our neighborhoods.