Crookston, like any other community, has no shortage of challenges. Our community faces many hurdles that stand in the way of progress and are tough to clear.

    Crookston, like any other community, has no shortage of challenges. Our community faces many hurdles that stand in the way of progress and are tough to clear.    

    But Crookston is also known for plenty of positive things, like being a University of Minnesota town, for instance.   

    But if there’s one positive trait that seems to have bubbled to the surface in recent years, it’s Crookston’s recreational and sports facilities, amenities and opportunities. The construction of Crookston Sports Center is obviously a huge driver behind that new momentum, but even before the CSC became a reality about 4 ½ years ago, Crookston had a river, a swimming pool, tremendous baseball and softball facilities, lots of beautiful parks, trails, and comprehensive Parks & Recreation programming, especially for a community with just under 8,000 people.   

    It’s understandable, then – or at least it should be – that Crookston is home to an active Park Board that makes important decisions and carries some real clout.   

    But in Crookston, that’s no longer the case. The Crookston Park Board, made up of appointed individuals from the community, seems to have become a figurehead board, a largely toothless group that talks about things that most would suspect a board of that nature talks about, but then nothing really becomes of most of those discussions.   

    It wasn’t always this way. Right or wrong, a few years ago the Crookston Park Board was in fact pretty powerful, a group with significant clout. If the Park Board made a recommendation to the city council, it took a super-majority vote of council members to reject that recommendation.   

    Maybe that was a bit too much concentrated power for a group of appointees. But that’s not really the discussion point today in this space. Council members and the mayor apparently felt the Park Board had a bit too much of an influence, however, and its power was subsequently reduced. In no uncertain terms, the Park Board has become an advisory board that makes some recommendations here and there and now and then, but it no longer appears to do much in the way of anything substantial. The city council’s committee structure has been drastically streamlined so that the Ways & Means Committee pretty much handles everything. While the thinking here is that whittling down to one big committee was a good move, it seems that every substantial discussion or important decision is funneled to that committee, including topics relating to parks and recreation in the community.   

    Most glaring of all, the Park Board seems to be simply bypassed when it’s convenient for the council or city administrative staff.    

    Is the Crookston Rotary Club’s “Peace Pole Park” that’s in the process of being put in Downtown Square a major example of this? Maybe, maybe not. It’s just a pole with a positive message and a couple of benches, after all. But, still, Rotary members pitched their plans to the Park Board last year and said they’d return with more information as part of the process of the Park Board recommending the best location for the pole. But, at the start of Ox Cart Days earlier this month, most Park Board members learned that Peace Pole Park was going into Downtown Square when they saw a photo of the groundbreaking in this very newspaper. The process had moved forward and a decision was made and the Park Board wasn’t privy to any of it.   

    Or maybe the better example is the discussion on putting the RV park in Castle Park earlier this year. Some Crookston residents, as the discussion really started to heat up, contacted Park Board members to offer input, pepper them with questions, and voice frustrations and even anger. Problem is, the Park Board was completely out of the loop on that discussion, which carried, and still carries great importance. No Park Board agenda ever included a discussion on a developer’s plans to put an RV park in Castle Park that would double as a home for temporary American Crystal Sugar workers, and the Park Board was never asked to recommend, or not recommend, a location for such an RV park in Crookston. How is that possible?   

    The Park Board gets a once-through on the Parks & Rec budget each year, but the spreadsheets are already filled in; the decisions are already made. The Park Board talks about various things and asks for more information, but then at their next meeting a month later, usually little to nothing in the way of new information is forthcoming. Things just kind of fade into the background, or someone else takes the reins and makes a decision.   

    To best illustrate the board’s lack of purpose of late, maybe it’s easiest to look to the things it actually votes on, or doesn’t vote on. Each month, the board approves the previous month’s meeting minutes, but after that the pickings are pretty slim. The board hears various reports from staff, asks some questions, talks about some things and typically adjourns without voting on any agenda items of any substance.   

    Why does the Park Board even exist any longer? What’s its mission? Its purpose? If those questions can’t be answered in an honest, even blunt fashion, then the Crookston Park Board should simply be dissolved.    

    Note to readers: Mike Christopherson’s spouse, Michelle Christopherson, is currently a member of the Crookston Park Board.