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Published: Monday, 6/20/2011

Encourage local control

Government consolidation often results in lower costs, greater efficiency, and a better-coordinated use of public resources. But not always. So the case for consolidation must be made each time it is proposed.

So far, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell has not done that in his plan to replace 16 city parks boards and athletic commissions with a single, overriding authority.

The Bell administration wants to eliminate the wrestling, athletic, and amateur soccer commissions, the downtown community board, and the advisory boards of a dozen city parks. Dan Silvers, president of the Toledo City Parks Commission, said the move would save money, improve efficiency, streamline operations, and organize citizen input.

Maybe, but saying it doesn't make it so. City officials should add substance to these claims before neighborhoods nust give up local control of their parks.

Some park boards are active; the Walbridge Park Advisory Board is a good example of a volunteer community that provides useful services the city is unlikely to duplicate. Others park boards have atrophied; in some cases, vacancies have gone unfilled for years.

One park board member suggested the cash-strapped city government wants to raid the boards' bank accounts. Considering the small amounts of money involved, that seems unlikely. Still, taking control of parks away from the people who live near them should be a last resort, not a first response.

Community involvement and volunteerism are desirable commodities, as Mayor Bell surely would agree. But busy people can grow lax, fall into a rut, or expect someone else to pick up the slack. Sometimes, once they find out their help is needed, volunteers get revitalized.

The city shouldn't disband active park boards because other boards have grown apathetic. That would have a chilling effect on community involvement.

Instead, it should use the effective boards as models to encourage less-involved groups to become more active.

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