Ames Council Dismisses Skate Park Naming Wait Period as “Arbitrary”

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Ames council member Peter Orazem speaks at City Hall Tuesday evening. Image: Channel 12 video archive

The effort to name Ames’ currently unnamed skate park after the late skater and local scene icon Georgie Tsushima took another step forward Tuesday evening, when the City Council requested that Parks and Rec staff rewrite part of a proposed naming policy (PDF) to nix a three-year waiting period after the deaths of “outstanding individuals” before park features can be named after them (absent a decision by the council to waive the rule).

By a 5-1 vote, the council made the request after largely agreeing that the waiting period was arbitrary — something the Parks and Rec Department had previously acknowledged to an extent, explaining that the policy was drafted after looking at those of other cities, where waiting periods varied from nonexistent to nine years. Council member Tim Gartin was the sole dissenter, favoring a one-year waiting period for the same reason the Parks and Rec Commission stuck with the longer one: to guard against rash, emotionally charged decisions.

But even though that wouldn’t be the case among Tsushima’s supporters, council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen argued, implementing a policy only to waive its rules for the first naming request it’s applied to would make it appear inconsistent with its intent.

Council members Gloria Betcher and Peter Orazem contrasted the policy proposal with the university’s naming of buildings and the city’s decision to name Christopher Gartner Park after the son of former Ames Tribune editor Michael Gartner, who died tragically at the age of 17 and was not a prominent public figure, after a monetary donation.

“We’re tying that three years to the shock having passed and, I don’t know, if I’m on the Parks and Recreation Commission I’m not really sure that I can judge when the shock of someone being deceased has passed,” Betcher said. “So that seems arbitrary.”

Orazem, a professor of economics, added that several buildings on ISU’s campus were named after people who were still alive, including Heady Hall, where his office is located. (State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, made a similar argument last month in front of the Parks and Rec Commission.)

Last week, after the parks naming proposal was placed on Tuesday’s agenda, state Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, penned a letter to the council urging them to support naming the skate park for Tsushima. Although that likely wouldn’t happen until after the broader policy proposal is made official, the request appeared to have the council’s support.

After city staff revise the proposal, it will come back before the council for its approval.

At the meeting, the council also revisited the city’s plans to renovate the skate park soon, a project that the Park and Rec Department had solicited Tsushima’s advice on before his untimely death last summer. The LA skatepark company Spohn Ranch was the only of nine companies the city sent bid requests to that responded, with a bid of close to $150,000 (PDF).

The council voted to delay awarding the bid and take a look at funding options and whether it would be feasible to rebid the project.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.