Town hall meeting at the Northwest YMCA

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

There are many things to figure into with the recent community meeting at the Northwest YMCA. It was at this gathering that the bulk of the community was introduced to a plan in which the Northwest YMCA would be taken over by Metro Parks of Recreation and converted to a community center.

The mayor was there to push and guarantee that this would be in the best interest of the community, keeping the same programs, offering new and innovative services to serve the community, extending parking, and providing more green space. No doubt the ‘sell’ by the mayor was inviting, however there was skepticism among many attendees with trust issues and what many felt were alternative motives. This apprehension may be because of the lack of transparency some felt in the handling of the whole situation.

It is no secret that many in the community feel betrayed and trivialized because it appears as if only a selective group of people knew exactly what was going down with this proposal, effecting the declining financial status of the YMCA. This feeling may be substantiated when you have some board members and one elected official who claim they were unaware of the move by Metro Parks to take over the YMCA.

The Northwest YMCA is a valuable asset in our community and it just stands to reason more could have been done to incorporate the community into playing a more vital role in keeping the Northwest YMCA financially solvent. There is a lot of finger pointing going around, questioning the business management of the YMCA and the lack of effective marketing and public relations that could have advanced the cause and membership of the YMCA. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the fact remains there’s a big disconnect with many stakeholders who feel betrayed.

The move to be taken over by Metro Parks seemed to be a clandestine one made by an esoteric group devoid of feedback from the very members supporting the YMCA as well as the community. Metro Parks taking over the facility may be the best alternative, but it is the lack of community input before arriving at that decision that riles the public, resulting in considerable distrust. It makes one question overall motives and credibility.

One of the arguments during the meeting was Metro Parks’ inability to accommodate the needs and concerns of the other two parks in this area, i.e., Hadley Park and Hartman Park. It was brought to the audience’s attention that it takes months to deal with impending problems and concerns in these centers but everything will be done to accommodate the needs of this new facility.

Another concern was a catch phrase used when it was said that the center would better serve the need of low-income people in the area. It makes some think that this area is being targeted for low income housing, thus contributing to the lack of amenities from restaurants and big businesses. Developers refuse to put expensive facilities into our district because their studies show our median disposable income cannot support these amenities.

Another concern was that with pending development in this area, property values would increase and the park could eventually be sold to developers. This apprehension was on the mind of many of those attending.

Isn’t it possible that with community collaboration and a cohesive plan the facility could have been kept afloat? With all this being said, I would conclude that the sentiments of Howard Jones running for state representative for District 19 resonated feelings within the community when he said: “We should be at the table at the start. We are not children and we will not continue to be overlooked and disrespected.”

If anything positive is to come out of this exchange, it is the need for new leadership that won’t apologize, makes excuses, or vacillate in meeting the needs of the people supposedly being representing. The Northwest YMCA situation is only an example that is problematic in our community. We must work harder to include the community in decisions affecting them. The community must be involved in the planning, implementation, and regulation of decisions involving them.

There are a multitude of people ‘talking the talk’ but unwilling to effectively help community involvement become a reality. It is not until the community feels vested and empowered that the web of distrust and dissention will be eliminated and we all can truly work in the best interests of all stakeholders in the community.

A recent update is that at least a month will be set aside on voting for acquisition of the Northwest YMCA by Metro Parks, pending further study of the proposal.