In a 5-to-2 vote, the Charlotte City Council reaffirmed its commitment Monday, May 11 of up to $75,000 to reconstruct the tennis courts at Bennett Park. Mayor Pro Tem Corey Sanders’ motion to rescind the council’s April 27 decision to fund a portion of the project received “no” votes from Mayor Carrie Burch and councilmembers Mary Jean Baker, Lloyd Conway, Branden Dyer and Yvonne Ridge.
Councilman Brad Johnston joined Sanders as the lone “yes” votes.
The vote followed more discussion as to the merits of the project, including public comment both for and against the project as well as acknowledgement of a memo councilmembers received from the city’s Park Advisory Board that stressed it did not support the project at this time. The Park Advisory Board’s input was not sought prior to the issue going before the council.
The memo stated: If there truly is $75,000 of City funds available for recreation, the Park Board feels strongly that it should be spent on higher priorities that were identified in the 2008 Parks Master Plan. While tennis courts are listed in that Council approved plan, they are near the bottom of the list.
Ridge, who presented the proposal to council at its April 27 meeting, opened discussion talking about the steps that should be taken in moving this project forward. She said while discussing the project with the city manager and DPW Director, there was no mention of taking the issue to the park board before moving forward.
Ridge said she worked with the Charlotte Area Recreation Cooperative, which put together a five-year plan with input from Carmel and Eaton Townships and the City of Charlotte, including the Park Advisory Board. In that five-year plan, she said the first action item is a tennis court enhancement initiative.
“I am disheartened by the Park Advisory Board memo,” Ridge said. “We should be working together.”
Sanders said other priorities should take precedent over the tennis courts.
“I don’t disagree that the courts need repair,” Sanders said. “We have to put our priorities in line here. I was elected by the residents of Charlotte to represent them. I have heard overwhelming outcry that they don’t want this.”
Ridge said the community has an opportunity to show its support through the Patronicity grant process, which requires the community to raise $25,000 for the project in 60 days in order to receive a $25,000 match from the Michigan Economic Development Council (MEDC).
“If the community does not support the grant match, the project can’t be done,” Ridge said.
Conway, who was absent for the April 27 vote, said he would rather see the courts fixed than them becoming an “ankle-twisting eye sore.”
“We have to separate the process from product,” Conway said. “It could have been presented differently. But, we have to look at the substance of the vote. If I had an old car and it broke down, I wouldn’t put it up on blocks, I would fix it or get rid of it. It’s a community use issue. In terms of quality of life, I would rather get the courts fixed.”
Conway said rescinding a previously approved vote sets a bad precedent that council will allow popular clamor to reverse its decisions. Brad Johnston said the rushed nature of the vote makes this a unique situation.
“I don’t think this is going to be common practice to rescind decisions in the future,” Johnston said. “I appreciate both sides of the issue and felt it needed more discussion, which we got tonight.”
The Charlotte Area Recreation Cooperative has submitted its grant proposal to the MEDC, Ridge said. If the project receives approval, the community will have 60 days from the time it is posted online in which to raise $25,000.