Parks & Rec Director Bob Evans showed up at last night’s borough council session prepared to talk about swing sets, slides and triple-shredded, debarked-woodchip play areas.
Instead, he found himself taken to the woodshed over the closing of the Marine Park playground because of safety concerns three weeks ago.
In particular, Councilman Michael DuPont criticized Evans for failing to notify the governing body that equipment at Count Basie and Marine parks had deteriorated to the point that the equipment has to be replaced.
“I’m a little perturbed that you knew about this back in January,” DuPont said, sounding more than a little perturbed, as Evans stood at a microphone in front of a large audience, apparently caught off guard.
“It perturbs me that from January or February, we had no knowledge of this,” DuPont continued. “I just think it’s awful for the public to find out (after the fact) that the parks are closing.”
Evans had come to the meeting with Bill Gibbons, a representative of Miracle Recreation, a playground supply company, to show off drawings of a playset that the borough might purchase, at a cost of $38,000, to replace the existing equipment at Marine Park, which is said to be splintering and have exposed bolts that could injure users.
The Count Basie Park equipment was quoted at about $28,000.
But the conclusion of Gibbons’ presentation was followed by sharp questions directed at Evans and Councilman John Curley by DuPont and Mayor Pasquale Menna.
Menna asked whether other potential suppliers have been considered, and why Curley, who is the council’s liaison to the Parks & Rec department, appeared to be advocating a single supplier on work that should be put out for competitive bidding particularly in light of Curley’s recent criticism of the council’s hiring of lawyers without bidding.
“This is just a proposal,” Curley said, adding that he would expect the project to be bid.
Evans said that another supplier had made a proposal, but he’d left that information in his office. “This was the best play area,” he said.
But DuPont turned up the heat, castigating Evans for failing to act more swiftly when he and Public Works Director Gary Watson realized late last year that the playground equipment was a safety concern. And Menna chafed that the Parks & Rec Committee has only had two meetings this year, a fact that came to public light earlier this month at the West Side Community Group’s annual candidate’s night forum.
“Why did it take a year and a half to close” those areas, DuPont asked.
Curley at that point tried to deflect the blame to Council President Sharon Lee, saying that perhaps DuPont should ask her. Curley said he had inherited “a mangled mess” from Lee when he succeeded her as council liaison to the department.
“Grace Cangemi and I made a commitment that decades of ill repair of Red Bank parks will be reversed,” he said.
He said the committee had had recurring difficulty getting members together.
DuPont, though continued to press Evans. “Tell me why it took three or four months for you to complete a report” on the conditions at the parks that Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels said he had requested, DuPont insisted.
After a long pause and an intervening question, Evans said he had been doing his “homework” and wanted to present his findings to the committee before going to the council, but hadn’t yet had a chance.
At the suggestion of Councilman RJ Bifani, Menna directed Evans to call for a Parks & Rec meeting in the next week so he could replace members who need to be replaced.