Firm outlines parks project

EVERETT – An Indiana-based consulting firm will hold more than a dozen public meetings and survey 600 households in the next year to get input on how the city’s 42 parks should be managed for the next decade.

The firm’s contract with Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson came under scrutiny when the City Council was asked to approve it more than a month after work on the pact began.

Leon Younger, president of PROS Consulting LLC, the consulting firm, presented his year-long agenda to the council Wednesday.

“We’ll look at whether (the city) is doing the right things, and whether it is doing those things right,” he said.

Younger said he began work on the parks project in January, on a $200,000 contract awarded by Stephanson. The council didn’t approve that contract until last week.

According to the contract, the firm conducted a kickoff meeting for the parks plan in August.

“We looked at the scope of the project then,” Younger said. “It was just a discussion meeting.”

Actual work on the project didn’t begin until January, he said.

At a council meeting last week, Stephanson apologized for moving forward with the contract before getting the council’s approval.

Councilman Bob Overstreet voted against the contract. Councilman Ron Gipson was absent.

According to the city charter, Stephanson isn’t technically required to seek council approval for this type of project, but Overstreet argued that negotiations with PROS Consulting should have been done in public with the council’s involvement.

“I wasn’t aware of this contract until last week,” Overstreet said. “It’s been my experience that there’s an agreement between the administration and the council that when necessary the mayor could sign the contract, but there would be an open flow of information, especially when we get into the magnitude of over $100,000.”

Assistant parks director Hal Gausman said the oversight was because of eagerness in the Parks and Recreation Department to get the process started.

“Once we realized we needed to get council approval, we dropped back to wait for that,” he said. “Maybe we jumped the gun a little bit. It was the mayor’s call to make sure the council is totally on board.”

By December, PROS Consulting will offer the city a strategic plan for the next 10 years. It will outline how to make the city’s parks more profitable and more family friendly. Younger didn’t have examples of what that would take.

“Currently, your parks are 20 percent self-supporting,” Younger told the council. “That’s on the low end.”

Parks in other cities comparable with Everett are, on average, more than 30 percent self-supporting, Younger said.

Some cities in California have parks programs that provide more than 50 percent of their own support, he said. Those cities have long-range plans and have carefully assessed what their residents want in parks.

No dates have been set for when the public meetings on the parks will take place.

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