Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day responds Monday to questions about why people who do not live in the city were allowed to participate in an anonymous survey on Lee Street Park. Day said there was no way to separate who lived in the city and who did not. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — Open discussions about the future of Lee Street Park turned into a debate about whether people who live outside Jonesboro, but use its resources, should have a say in the town’s affairs.
The city held its third public forum on the park’s future on Monday and it was intended to focus on what amenities residents most wanted to see in the park. About midway through, however, it turned into a lively back and forth on whether past survey results were valid if nonresidents were allowed to participate in them.
One resident, Anne Wise, expressed concerns to Mayor Joy Day that it skewed the results of a previous survey to the point where it wasn’t an accurate depiction of what city residents want.
“People can come and enjoy what goes on in the city, but what’s built in the city should ultimately be voted on by the city residents, which is what you originally said was going to happen,” Wise said.
The debate over who should participate in park surveys became so lively, it was unclear whether a third survey planned to be taken at the meeting would even be handed out. At one point, the park’s steering committee, consisting of residents and one business owner, had to huddle together and decide whether to proceed.
They decided to proceed with the survey, where participants had to rank features, such as an amphitheater, additional trees, picnic areas, gazebos, playground equipment and a farmer’s market area.
“We have to do something that we can do within our means, but still nice that we can all enjoy,” Day said.
Jonesboro is working on developing a plan for the park’s refurbishment, and a large part of that work is gathering public input on what amenities the park should have. Day said renovations are expected to begin early next year.
Proponents of only residents having input argue that Jonesboro is their city and they alone should have a say in what its public facilities look like. Advocates for including non-residents input argue that people who live outside the city, but use the park on a daily basis also have a right to voice opinions on it’s future.
The resident vs. non-resident argument had not been expressed in Lee Street Park public input meetings before Monday. However, it could mean the difference between one type of park and another.
“It’s city property, it’s city SPLOST money that’s going to build it and the city residents should be the ones who decide what goes there,” said Councilman Bobby Wiggins.
But Councilman Randy Segner pointed out SPLOST money isn’t generated by Jonesboro residents alone.
“Other people who don’t necessarily live in Jonesboro pay for that SPLOST as well,” Segner said.
Even before the debate began publicly, some residents began to see the park as an issue that could divide the city. While talking about the cost of maintaining the park, David Barron drew comparisons to the controversy surrounding the city’s decision to eliminate its volunteer fire department nearly a decade ago.
That helped lead to Day losing a re-election bid in the 2007 mayoral election. She had to sit out the next four years before residents would vote her back into office.
“I’m glad I’m not on the steering committee,” Barron said. “This is going to be the biggest can of worms we’ve opened in this city since we fired all of the firemen. I have learned over the years that it’s not wrong to voice your opinion about something.
“Somebody’s going to be hurt and somebody’s going to be blamed for all of these fancy things that we’re planning on bringing to the city for a plus that could very easily be a minus,” he added.