The Block Island Times

Cullen opts out of another term on rec board

Cites frustration with lack of progress
By Lars Trodson | Nov 22, 2013
Source: File photo John Cullen.

A wide range of topics was discussed at the most recent Recreation Department meeting, including the decision by Board Chair John Cullen not to run for another term, the fact that only half of the fertilizer purchased in the spring was applied to Heinz Field (and not until September), and how to better use social media as a way to disseminate information to the public.

The board also discussed capital improvements to Heinz Field and the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion.

Cullen was blunt in his reasoning for not seeking another term after more than four years on the board.

“I’ve enjoyed spending time with my colleagues, but its kind of a waste of my time. We talk about the same things over and over and over. I’ve spent countless hours advising the [Town] Council, and over several different councils, and they just don’t seem to take our advice and after a while you have to say, ‘What am I doing here?’”

Cullen and the other two board members present, Chris Willi and Ann Hall, said they were disappointed in Cullen’s decision, but they understood it.

“You also sit on other committees where they get things done,” said Willi. Cullen is on the Tourism Council. “I sit on the School Committee and I’m floored with how much gets done. [The recreation board has] talked about Heinz Field for years.”

The board, prior to Cullen’s announcement, had spent some time discussing projects to upgrade the facilities at the town’s athletic field. The group also expressed frustration that only half of fertilizer that was purchased for the field was applied in September. Recreation Department Director Rob Closter said the other half of the fertilizer is in storage for the winter and will be applied next year.

Willi also said that the group has compiled “three years of figures on why we need a rec aid” — the position is currently being advertised — “when other things in this town get passed.” The town council, he said, thinks “nothing of spending $20,000 on some half-assed idea.”

Hall said she understood Cullen’s position, but added, “I don’t want to see you go.”

“None of us do this because we want to be rewarded, but you need positive reinforcement,” Cullen said. “You want to get things done. I’m not seeing a lot of results for my efforts.”

“We don’t get a lot of support,” said Hall.

“I’ll finish my current term, but in my heart this is the only decision I can make,” Cullen said.

The discussion ended on a light note. “Does this mean you’re running for the council?” Closter asked.

“I’m not that crazy,” Cullen replied.

In other business, board member Chris Willi made a motion to have the board ask Town Manager Nancy Dodge and the Town Council to expedite the ability to use social media as a way in which to get the word out about the activities of the department. As it stands now, town employees are barred from using social media during the work day on their work computers. Board member Ann Hall said she felt that barring town employees from social media on work computers didn’t make much sense because “everybody has their phones, so what’s the difference?”

Willi felt that the town was “way behind” the rest of the country in using social media platforms to distribute information.

“When I was starting my business, I posted briefs on The Block Island Times website. I think more people go there than the town’s website. I hate going to the town’s website. It’s antiquated. It’s embarrassing.”

Willi said if the board has “to go to the town council to expedite [the use of social media], then expedite it.” The motion was passed unanimously.

The board also discussed starting next year’s triathlon earlier in the day. Last year’s race, in August, started at 3:30 in the afternoon, and there were, according to the board, complaints that the race was interfering with business and road traffic. Closter said he was meeting with Megan Moran, the group sales manager for Interstate Navigation, this week to discuss the possibility of chartering runners as early as 6 a.m.

Closter said if the race kicks off as early as 8:30 or 9 a.m., “by 11:30 everything is done.”

“By noon you wouldn’t even know a triathlon was run,” said Cullen. “It will benefit the town, businesses and the community by running it earlier.”

The board also discussed upgrades to the facility at the Ball O’Brien Park.

A total of $166,000 will be spent on new bathroom facilities and a shelter at the park. Of that total, $150,000 is available in the recreation department’s account and $16,000 came from in-kind services from the town. Because the local Lions Club had pledged $30,000 to the project more than two years ago, member Chris Willi called the delays in the project “embarrassing.” He said a timeline was needed for the project.

Upgrades to the Beach Pavilion, which will include improved amenities to the services provided at the facility, upgrades to the bathrooms and a new water line to the building, will total $494,000. Of that, $50,000 will be used to expand the parking lot and $150,000 will be used to replace the water line.

Closter informed the board that the project cannot get underway until $100,000 in grant money is received from the state Department of Environmental Management, and he expected that grant to be awarded next February. Because of the timeline, Closter said that work would not begin until 2015.

“For this coming year, there will be no changes,” asked Cullen.

“It may be feasible,” said Closter. “But you don’t want to open the facility late.”

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