Concern Over Teens Congregating at Mindowaskin Aired at Rec. Mtg.

By REBECCA MEHORTER
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Recreation Commission met Monday via Zoom and discussed the statement Mayor Shelley Brindle released pertaining to teenagers loitering in Mindowaskin Park, a Brightwood cleanup and the financials of the commission. (The full statement can be found on Page 6.)

Scott Katz, councilman and liaison to the commission, told the commission that Mayor Brindle and Police Chief Chris Battiloro released a statement earlier that day expressing concern over “the increasingly large number of teens that have been congregating at Mindowaskin Park, specifically at the playground, after dark.”

Mr. Katz said the teens have littered, broken and vandalized playground equipment and thrown rocks at cars. He also said that when police do break up the groups, they come back after officers have left. He also noted that the teens are neither socially distancing nor wearing masks.

Mayor Brindle said in her statement that police are installing temporary spotlights in the park to discourage evening gatherings and to identify trespassers. Officers are increasing patrols of the area and may take teenagers who have repeatedly trespassed into juvenile custody. Masks are now mandated at the playground at all times except for children under age 2.

Mayor Brindle also said in the statement that she was considering adding a fence with a locked gate to “enhance security and more easily issue citations for trespassing violations.”

Commission member Ruth Maloney asked about where in the process the fencing was. Mr. Katz said all he knew was what is in the mayor’s statement. Commission Chairman Gary Fox said safety fencing at Mindowaskin had been in discussion prior to this event.

Director of Recreation Don Bogardus said there is a meeting later this week to get a fence vendor to see what type of fencing could go into the park and where. Mr. Bogardus said that there is no money budgeted for the fencing for 2020 but that there could potentially be a partnership or fundraiser to fund the fence.

In other news, Mr. Katz said there will be cleanups at Brightwood Park and Tamaques Park this Sunday, October 11. He said there is a signup link on the Green Team’s page on the town website. He mentioned that previous cleanups in Brightwood have been so successful that organizers are asking people to go to Tamaques Park to clean there.

“I just have to say, if nothing else comes out of our attempt at Brightwood Park to put in the bike trails, we brought attention to a park that seriously needed help and is getting the help it needs,” Ms. Maloney said. “So I’m really, really happy with what’s happening up there. … I think it’s a win for all of us.”

Commissioner Monica Bergen did not have anything to report relating to finance. Ms. Bergen said later in the meeting that there have been two finance reports in 2020.

“Why do we never have a report?” Ms. Maloney asked. “I’m finding it, at this point, fiscally irresponsible to never have a finance report. Does anybody else feel that, or am I just the daughter of an accountant?”

Commissioner Jennifer Gilman said, “We’re dealing with taxpayer dollars, and we need to be able to show clearly how the budgets are and how they’re being spent.”

Mr. Bogardus clarified that the commission receives $2,000 in taxpayer money a year for office supplies and computer software. The rest of the money, he said, comes from the field user account from sports programs. Ms. Bergen said the account was low on funds. However, Mr. Bogardus said, the field user money from the summer sports is “coming in dribs and drabs.”

This statement prompted Ms. Maloney to ask why the money was coming in so far after the fields had been used, and the commission engaged in a discussion encompassing many facets of field use. The commission discussed whether or not there was reason to believe sports programs were miscounting the number of participants, why athletes who play recreation and travel leagues only pay once for field maintenance, and whether or not late payments were affecting the commission’s ability to do its job.

“I’m not sure what problem we’re trying to solve here,” commissioner Brad Rothenberg said. “I mean, every league has always paid what they’ve owed. Whether we get it week one or week four, it’s not like we have a dire cash flow crisis on our hands.”

Ms. Maloney said the system is “pretty loose” and lacks accountability. “I’m not so sure that’s working for us,” she said.

Commissioner Jeff Perrella asked if late fees were preventing the commission from doing other things.

“In a normal year, we have excess funds,” Mr. Fox said. “This year is a little different, I believe.”

Mr. Fox said the commission has always used the honor system as sports leagues self-report their membership totals. However, Mr. Bogardus said the commission does have the power, if desired, to request leagues bring in their books.

Mr. Bogardus said he has a list of league numbers from the past three years but that he has not noticed major spikes. The commission members brainstormed ways to confirm the number of players a league claims to have, ranging from rosters to insurance information.

“I am not opposed to accurate or up-to-date numbers,” Ms. Gilman said. “But I do think it is really important that we maintain a trusting relationship with our users.”

Ms. Maloney said she believed the issue deserved further attention, not necessarily in a formal motion, but attention nonetheless.

The next recreation commission meeting will be held Monday, November 2, at 7:30 p.m.