A City Council committee this afternoon endorsed an idea to fold the Fairmount Park Commission into the Department of Recreation, which would give the mayor control over the massive stock of public land for the first time since 1867. Council's Law and Government Committee approved legislation that would ask voters if they want to combine the two agencies into the new Department of Parks and Recreation.
That agency would report directly to the mayor. The legislation would create a Commission on Parks and Recreation that would be radically different from the current Fairmount Park Commission, which is selected in secret by the city Board of Judges. The new commission would draw its members from applicants who are interviewed in a public City Council hearing. Council would select 25 names to send to the mayor, who would nominate nine members. The 15-member commission would be rounded out by elected officials. It would advise on park policy but not control it.
Current Commission president Robert N.C. Nix III today said he had no problems with the way the members are now chosen but granted the political climate has changed. Council and Mayor Nutter want to shift control for park land. "As long as you get good applicants, its fine," Nix said. But Commission vice president Alex Bonavitacola cited the old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" while opposing the move.
Nutter, who has started boosting funding for park issues, this week said combining the two agencies would make the city more efficient in delivering services. The legislation for a proposed charter change, if approved by Council's last spring session next week, could be placed on the November general election ballot.