Reform at Park Authority past due

Mismanagement within the Prince William Park Authority is costing county tax payers millions of dollars and the accumulation of gaffs and missteps over the past few years alone require a specific remedy.

Members of the Prince William Park Authority Board and its executive director should tender their resignations to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. County supervisors should then review each resignation and decide if it will be accepted. This may sound blunt and harsh but nothing less than a major shakeup of the Park Authority’s leadership structure will relieve the struggling bureaucracy’s growing credibility problem.

The latest flare-up involves Valley View Park, a $3 million athletic facility near Bristow that will now cost taxpayers at least $5.4 million. Various design changes caused a spike in the park’s cost requiring county supervisors to authorize a $1.3 million loan last year so the Park Authority could finish the project. Overruns on Valley View will ultimately push back other park projects promised to voters when they approved a parks and recreation bond package in 1998.

The Valley View debacle is the latest in mismanagement that has become commonplace. Though the Park Authority is somewhat autonomous from the county government, it must constantly turn to the county supervisors to shore up its hemorrhaging budget.

The Park Authority was created as a means to provide more recreational opportunities to Prince William County residents. It wasn’t too long ago when the county had very few local parks and the Park Authority has helped change that. Independence from the Board of Supervisors enabled it to operate without county government officials micro-managing every step taken.

But the authority’s recent record of continuously going back to the Board of Supervisors for more cash has undermined this autonomy. Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton has even said that the board may have to supervise each Park Authority project to ensure costs are staying within budget. If it gets to that point, then there will be no need for an independent park authority.

Executive Director Peggy Thompson offered one solution that only reinforces our opinion that she should step aside. She told county supervisors this week that an independent consultant should be hired to improve oversight of various projects. Fattening the bureaucracy is no solution for a flawed leadership structure. The county may need to start over with reform-minded leadership which can get the books balanced and projects completed.

Reform at the Park Authority should open the door to other critical questions that must be asked of the county’s recreation system. Should the county be in the water park business? Should the county be operating its own golf courses? What type of parks need to be built?

Few park authorities are known for making money that’s not the purpose. But a well managed park authority at least comes close to showing some semblance of fiscal responsibility. That’s just not the case here.

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