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Should private groups be able to rent borough parks and keep out the public? Council may set policy

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 4/10/19

A Middletown Borough Council denial of a request from a company to use Hoffer Park for an employee picnic has one councilor calling for change.

Council by 4-3 vote April 2 turned down a request …

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Should private groups be able to rent borough parks and keep out the public? Council may set policy

Posted

A Middletown Borough Council denial of a request from a company to use Hoffer Park for an employee picnic has one councilor calling for change.

Council by 4-3 vote April 2 turned down a request from Schneider Electric to use the park for the picnic Aug. 17.

The company wanted to use the entire park for the picnic, but the park would have to remain open to the public.

That creates a built-in conflict that was a concern for councilors voting against the request, including Council President Angela Lloyd.

“If they (the employees) are on the basketball court and a bunch of kids come down and want to play, is there going to be an issue — ‘We reserved the park for the day, you can’t play basketball,’” Lloyd said.

Schneider also planned to bring a number of attractions for its employees and their families, including a “bouncy” house, a petting zoo, a live band, dunk tanks and food vendors.

These will inevitably draw the interest of others who would be in the park at the same time, especially young children, said Councilor Jenny Miller, who also voted no.

“My concern is the residents become angered because their kids can’t participate in that, not understanding” why they cannot, she said.

Schneider Electric invites 400 employees to the picnic, but in past years the most who have attended is 150, borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told council. No one representing Schneider appeared to be at the meeting.

Klinepeter acknowledged council approving the request could set “a precedent” for other companies to hold similar events at the park.

So be it, said Councilor Ian Reddinger, who urged council approve the request.

“That’s a good precedent to set — come to Middletown, have fun, enjoy, bring your family, enjoy the businesses that are around here — that’s a good precedent to set and I hope we do set that precedent,” he said.

Joining Reddinger in voting to approve the company’s request to use the park were councilors Robert Reid and Vice President Mike Woodworth.

Joining Lloyd and Miller in voting no were councilors Dawn Knull and Ellen Willenbecher.

“I’m very sorry to see that — another reason to not let people come to our town,” Reddinger said after the vote.

“It’s not that I don’t want businesses to come here, because I do,” Lloyd said in response. “If we’re going to do something like this, we need to put some procedures in place. Allowing this, we are opening it up to having issues.”

Willenbecher agreed, saying the Schneider request has prompted “a really great conversation” that council should be having regarding use of its parks.

“Maybe this year you need to find some place else, but think of us next year,” Willenbecher said of Schneider. “Maybe we will have something in place … but right now it feels like they (Schneider) are driving it and we need to be the ones managing these kinds of events, should we even go this direction.”

Reddinger toward the end of the council meeting introduced a separate motion, proposing the borough enact a policy that would allow any park to be rented for private use for 12 hours for a $500 fee.

Knull called it “a great idea,” but said she could not vote for the motion until it can reviewed by the borough solicitor.

Klinepeter said that at that moment, there is no way of knowing if the $500 fee proposed by Reddinger would be enough to cover borough costs that would be involved in renting out a public park.

Reddinger’s motion failed 4-3. Lloyd earlier in the meeting pledged council will discuss the issue at an upcoming work session.