Kendrick Park was the subject of an R-J article on September 10. Some residents in the neighborhood would like the Town of Wallingford to clean it up and install new playground equipment, and have begun to lobby Parks and Rec to have the work done.
If you are asking yourself “Where the heck is Kendrick Park?,” you are not alone. The article describes it as being between South Elm and South Main, but the topography is such that you can’t access the park from either street. It sits probably seventy-five feet above either street, at the very end of Grandview. In other words, it is very much a neighborhood park, a town facility rarely frequented by residents outside of that area.
This subject is interesting because it serves as an example of 1) how residents with a particular special interest best receive attention from their municipal government and 2) the principles used by town officials as to how to allocate scarce resources.
First of all, I was impressed by both the way the neighbors are making their request and the response that John Gawlak’s department is making to it. In too many other cases where citizens petition for government to attend to a special interest of theirs – and I am not speaking specifically of Wallingford – the approach is to make indignant, noisy denunciations and demands in hopes of ginning up angry outside support and putting the town officials in an uncomfortable position to the point where they will accede to whatever just to make the matter go away.
By taking a more measured approach, understanding the Town’s position that this is a little used, out of the way pocket park and thus judged a low priority for maintenance and improvement, the residents interested in its resurrection have received the cooperative and attentive response they sought and for which John Gawlak’s department has come to be known.
In this particular case – again because the location of this particular park is so landlocked and thus sparsely used – a large town investment in new equipment is unlikely; but it seems that, because the resident group appears to be willing to shoulder some of the expense, the Town is willing to work toward a mutually agreeable solution. Because this small issue is (so far) devoid of the noisy special interest politics that plagues so many of these infrastructure negotiations, much of the outcome that the residents are seeking is likely to be reached.
Which brings me to the second point: allocating resources. All too often, in matters such as these where the government is being requested to meet a want – not a need; a want – of a particular group, elected officials are guided by the impact that satisfying this special interest will have on their political career rather than carefully weighing whether a particular expenditure passes a comprehensive analysis.
At the very least, such an analysis should answer these questions: How many residents does the project serve? Is this an existing facility/service or is this an addition to the town financial burden? What are the real needs that this expenditure will address? What additional long-term maintenance and operations expenses will be involved if the project requested goes forward? Obviously, there are others, but these serve the point that competent administration requires an analytical, not a political, approach.
This is an election year, and there are twenty-seven candidates vying for our support. As we listen to them discuss their leadership qualities and their fitness to be in or continue in office, we must try to determine what might guide them in their decision-making. Are they trying to cobble together enough special interest groups to put them over the top, promising anything and everything, or do they instead possess the long-term vision and guiding principles that carry them far beyond November 5th, 2013? The success of our community depends on us finding that answer.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.