Fort Wayne Park board unveils new public input time and gets feedback on Ted Nugent concert, courthouse green use

It turns out you can show up at a park board meeting and sign up to speak to the board that day.

The agenda for today’s Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department board of park commissioners meeting at Citizens Square included a “Public Input Time” at the end of the meeting agenda.

It is the first time the park board has offered a designated time for public comment, an idea board President raised at the board’s April meeting.

Parks staff members contacted Friday by News-Sentinel.com about the change weren’t sure how the public input time would work. They said they believed people still would have to follow the previous policy of contacting the parks department director in writing at least seven working days before a meeting.

At today’s meeting, park board President Rick Samek ended the confusion.

The board will try having a public comment time of 10 to 15 minutes at the end of its meetings, Samek said. People can sign up to speak as they enter the meeting, with no advance request required.

Park commissioners and park staff will listen to what people want to say and may ask questions, he added, but they likely won’t respond to comments at the meeting.

Two people spoke today: Fort Wayne residents Jim Sack and Linda Brooks.

Though Sack didn’t mention Ted Nugent by name, he voiced concern about the parks department hosting a concert by Nugent on July 25 at Foellinger Outdoor Theatre.

Nugent has a long history as a divisive figure who has ridiculed people for a long time, Sack said, which is at odds with the parks department’s history of being about harmony and bringing people together, Sack said.

“It’s just a very bad decision,” he added.

Samek, saying he was going to break the rule he had just mentioned and reply, told Sack the parks department has a theater rental contract with concert promoter Pacific Coast Concerts and doesn’t exercise control over what concerts the promoter schedules there.

Brooks raised three concerns with the park board:

• Brooks asked the board to clarify its use policy for the Allen County Courthouse Green, which the parks department manages and maintains.

Brooks provided a copy of the Courthouse Green Use Policy, which was approved in a resolution adopted by the park board in 2001. The document indicates state law and city ordinance gives the park board the authority to set a use policy for the courthouse green, and that the green “is intended to be used for the quiet enjoyment of the public.”

The policy specifically says the green can’t be reserved or scheduled for use by any person, group, business or organization. The green also can’t be used as a staging area for an event, and amplification of people’s voices, musical instruments, radio or any other noise-generating item is prohibited.

In recent years, the courthouse green has become a frequent site for rallies and public events, many of which use public address systems and music.

Brooks said she became aware of the courthouse green use policy while seeking permission to hold a Community Voices & Choices Outreach Rally there on April 28.

Samek told Brooks the confusion over the courthouse green use policy has been brought to the park board’s attention and, “We are looking into that.”

• Brooks also asked the park board to consider changing the name of McMillen Park to that of someone better connected to the largely African-American and minority community who live around the park.

She also cited the McMillen family’s involvement in the demolition a year ago of the former Bowser Pump office building and complex on Creighton Avenue, which some southeast Fort Wayne residents wanted to see saved and renovated for a new use.

The building was owned by the McMillen Foundation, which was created by the McMillen family.

• In addition, Brooks asked the park board to consider offering more cultural programming of interest to the African-American community, such as programs connected with holidays and dates important in that community.

One other person had planned to speak today, but Karen Walker said she was ill and couldn’t make it to the meeting. Walker attended the park board’s April meeting hoping to voice concern about the Ted Nugent concert, but she wasn’t allowed to speak because she hadn’t made the request seven working days in advance.

In an email informing a parks staff member she would be unable to attend the meeting, Walker included the following comments, which she shared with News-Sentinel.com. The comments weren’t read at the park board meeting:

“If I could have attended the meeting, I would have asked the board to reconsider sponsoring the Ted Nugent concert scheduled for July 25 at Foellinger Theatre. The Mission Statement of Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation includes, ‘to enhance the quality of life in Fort Wayne by providing positive opportunities for leisure time.’

“Mr. Nugent has made divisive and violent statements, including comparing Democrats to ‘rabid coyotes,’ who should be shot on sight. Mr. Nugent also has made very disparaging comments about the young students who rallied recently for stricter gun control. But even worse, Mr. Nugent has advocated for child molesting, including his song, ‘Jailbait.’ I was appalled when I read the words to this song.

“I do not believe that Ted Nugent furthers the mission of Parks and Recreation by ‘providing positive opportunities for leisure time.'”

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