A little story about it all

By Ron Hanes

   Editors note: On Sept. 8 the Orofino City Council passed Ordinance No. 761, which among other things, prohibits the use of skateboards within any city park or sidewalk. The editorial department received the following letter and published it in the Oct. 8 edition of the Clearwater Tribune.

   Letter to the Editor: Hello, my name is Cannon Wyman. You may know me for I am in the newspaper office quite often, usually for school though. I am 12-years-old and I am in the seventh grade.

   I am writing to you because I am tired of almost every time somebody does something wrong, everybody else gets punished for their actions. Everybody is tired of people littering in the park, so they kicked skateboarders out of the park. They are going to kick bikers out next.

   I bet the people that are vandalizing and littering in the park don’t even ride a bike or skateboard. What’s next? Are they going to try to kick people out of the park too? What’s the point of a public park if you can’t even go there with your skateboard or bike?

   I think instead of kicking people out of the park, we all could do something like maybe once a month have people come to the park and clean up all the garbage in the park. That way everybody will be happy.

   Please write back soon and maybe share my idea with others, so we can all live in a better and cleaner town. Maybe you could have one of your reporters write a little story about it all and put it in the paper. Or you could put my letter in the paper. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

   Thank you, Cannon, for your letter and concern over events that have occurred in our community. It is a shame when others have to pay the consequences for the bad behavior of a few. It is every citizen’s responsibility to take appropriate measures to ensure that the maladies of society, such as vandalism, do not occur and that when they do, they are dealt with directly.

   In an attempt to answer Cannon’s questions, I spoke with officials, read City Council minutes, reviewed newspaper articles, visited a number of skateboard parks, and talked with a lot of kids (present and former). I learned a lot and in the course of three articles (including this one) I will share that information with you “in this little story about it all.”

Ordinance No. 761

   When interviewed, Cannon was clear that her main concern was that bicycles would be outlawed next. Her brother is a serious bicycle rider who hopes to eventually “go pro” and the park is the only place he has to practice his chosen sport. Orofino Mayor Ryan Smathers assured me that this is “definitely not” going to happen. However, the evidence suggests otherwise.

   The minutes from several Orofino City Council meetings mention complaints from citizens about youth trashing the park, their use of foul language and intimidating behavior. There are no police reports regarding this activity but according to Smathers there were “literally hundreds of complaints to the City.” The only written complaint came from a local couple and involved a bicyclist, not a skateboarder:

   “On Friday, July 17, 2009 in the evening, I had an experience where one of this group of youths stood in front of my pickup with his bicycle as I was trying to leave the park…I pulled up and explained to him that he needed to stay out of the middle of the roadway, and he said, ‘you could go around me.’ I felt this was disrespectful and uncalled for….We feel this ordinance (Ordinance No.761) needs to be implemented for the benefit of everyone….”

   The skateboard, vandalism, park issue is not something that started in 2009. There were already on-going issues in 2005 according to City records. Complaints of trash, foul language and general misbehavior continued to be a topic. Building a skate park was also a topic.

   From the regular City Council meeting report, July 11, 2005: “…Mayor Pippenger and Councilman Smathers reported that they have received complaints from other park users of the foul language from skateboarders. Chief Pomerinke reported that there are several skateboard groups that run around together. The one group that attended the Council meeting was probably not the group that used the picnic tables as ramps.

   Each time a complaint comes in, his officers will go down to the park. If there is actual damage then the skateboarders that are down there will be cited. At the next Recreation meeting the committee will meet with some of the parents that were interested in putting together a proposal for a skateboard park.”

   Smathers chaired the Recreation Committee then and meeting notes reflect his opinion: “The following stipulations were agreed upon by the parents, children, and council members: they would respect other people, clean up their language, police themselves, pick up after themselves, and stay out of traffic – endangering other park users.” Smathers said that the rules fell on deaf ears; “before committee members left the park grounds, the agreed upon rules were being violated with parents watching.”

   An Aug. 19, 2008 Recreation Committee report indicated improvement, “Chairman Banks communicated that the Orofino Police Department has been doing a good job at patrolling the City Park. The city has been experiencing some problems with youth and skateboarders in the park, but since city officers have stepped up the patrol coverage in the park, problems have significantly diminished. Banks has received several compliments from citizens that they appreciate being able to go into the park and feel safe and comfortable.”

   The final straw in making the decision to propose ordinance No.761 came in the summer of 2009 when two female juveniles vandalized the park restrooms. The damage was significant and accounted for most of the $6000 in vandalism that occurred in about a two-month period in the City according to Smathers. There could be any number of reasons the vandalism and general misbehavior of young people in the park escalated to a level that the passage of Ordinance No. 761 was necessary.

   People have a lot of questions and comments about Ordinance No 761. They include unusual, sad, irresponsible and ridiculous. They also included What if those cops spent a little time at the park? Best city to raise kids? There’s nothing for kids here. First the swimming pool, now this.

The “F” word

   With this article nearing a length where readers start to lose interest, I needed a catchy headline so that you would stick around for a point I want to make because it is a very important one.

   It is appropriate to acknowledge the Orofino Mayor and City Council, recognizing them for their unquestionable dedication and commitment they have for Orofino as they do the best they can with limited resources. Disagreement is sometimes inevitable, but let me assure you that this writer, this newspaper, and a healthy majority of the citizens in this community appreciate their efforts.

   And even though sometimes people disagree, it doesn’t mean there is any distrust or that it needs to end in discord. In researching this article I read five years worth of minutes from the City Council meetings and that alone gave me a good deal of respect and realization of what it takes to run a city.

   During this five-year period the skateboard issue had been an on-again, off-again item on the Council’s agenda taking up much of their time. The “F” word, Frustration, might be the single best answer as to why Ordinance No. 761 became law.

   That “F” word might also be the reason Cannon wrote her letter and issued her offer to take bets that the individuals involved in the park vandalism don’t even ride skateboards or bicycles. The court system has its own way of doing things, but these vandals should be held accountable and part of that accountability should be for them to explain to the rest of us why they did what they did. They may as well settle the bet too…just in case anyone takes Cannon up on it.

Another circle

   Just like in the 1998 movie, Pleasantville, many of the roads you take out of Orofino circle right back to town. However, if you take one of the roads that lead away from Orofino, on any summer afternoon, within a few miles, you will see something that has not existed in Orofino for a long time. Travel across Idaho, the Northwest, or anywhere else in the country and you’ll see a whole lot more of them.

   They come in all sizes and shapes. There are new ones, old ones, fixed up ones. One thing they all have in common though, they are all full of people…laughing, screaming, yelling, splashing people. Swimming pools are, of course, what I’m referring to.

   Wait a minute!  Just how does a swimming pool have anything to do with skateboarding?

   Like those Pleasantville roads, a discussion about a skate park inevitably drifts back to our long awaited Community Complex.  The Complex was to include both a swimming pool and a skate park. Routinely, parents of skateboarders are referred to the developers of the Complex in the belief it will serve their kid’s needs. But, disappointed parents and kids found that, like those roads out of Pleasantville, this solution (or lack thereof) seemed to send them in just another circle.  

   People have a lot to say when it comes to the Community Complex: Wasn’t there a time limit, five years or something, before the land goes back? Is that land available for a skateboard park only? Is there money that could be used for a skateboard park? I saved for a new pool since I was a kid. Where’s the money I contributed? How much got spent on consultants? Look at Asotin County’s mess! Where’s the money the City had for a pool? The old pool could have been fixed up.

What’s the point?

   Cannon, you are not the only one who’s been asking questions and openly wondering about the equity of a citywide skateboarding ban when an alternative to using the park has not been offered. “What is the purpose of a city park?” (or something similar) might be a great topic for the Clearwater Tribune Opinion Poll, so be sure and check that out on the front page and VOTE.

   Can we find solutions for skateboarders and other recreational needs? Maybe we’ll find that we can be more like those places where the roads don’t go in a circle. Perhaps we’ll find a way to become more like one of those places where some roads keep going and rediscover the community I remember from my own youth.

What’s next?

   Next week’s article will focus on what other communities are doing for their skate boarders, how skate parks get built, and how they operate. I’ll share what the experts say works and what doesn’t. The two upcoming articles will serve-up a Holiday-sized helping of ideas for Orofino’s Mayor and Council, its youth and their parents, and the community as a whole. Maybe, unpleasant as this may be for some, an environment will be created where we can explore some real solutions.

   Thank you, again, Cannon Wyman, for your concern and taking the time to put some effort into making our community a better place to live. And by the way, if you need help, give me a call when you want to pick up that garbage in the park (or anywhere else for that matter). We should all agree that we need happier people.