Aquatic center a big issue in Crook parks and rec board race

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 29. 2007 5:00AM PST

At the same time voters are deciding whether to build a new aquatic center in Prineville, they will select the members of the board that would oversee the project and other parks and recreation activities.

Four out of the five positions on the Crook County Parks and Recreation District’s Board of Directors are up for a vote in the May election, but only one of the races is contested.

Charles Poarch, Larry W. Smith and Debbie L. Smith – who are not related – are running for the board’s Position 4, which Larry Smith currently occupies. Cindy Hurt, Donna White and current board member Jerry Coale are also running uncontested for three other positions.

Except for Coale, who is running for a two-year unexpired term, all the candidates would serve for four years. Roughly 8,000 voters in the Parks and Recreation District vote on the board members.

The Parks and Recreation board heads a district that is trying to maintain facilities while providing new amenities for a growing community.

In the past few years, the district has increased its system development charges to keep pace with growth and created a 20-year plan to shore up existing programs and facilities and determine how to expand.

But it has also unsuccessfully tried to build a new swim center and expand its boundaries to include Powell Butte and Juniper Canyon.

Jerry Coale

After two years on the Parks and Recreation District Board, Coale said he wants to continue working on items like creating new parks and improving existing ones.

Coale was appointed to fill a vacant position on the board in 2005 after competing unsuccessfully for a seat.

Now he is running unopposed to serve out the term’s remaining two years.

“I’m just getting to know the parks and rec process and all the work that needs to be done,” he said. “There are a lot of projects on the table that still need a lot of work and are still interesting to me, and I want to continue that work.”

Although the board was not successful with two recent ballot measures — one to annex areas into the district and another to construct a new aquatic center in Prineville — Coale said work is moving forward on several parks around the city.

“We are making progress on some fronts, (but) we’ve had some failures on other fronts,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on — more than just the swimming pool — we’ve got trails and other parks to deal with and sports fields.”

Coale, who moved to Prineville from California in 2000 after retiring from IBM, said he enjoys being a part of the community.

“Unfortunately, a lot of board members don’t attend meetings and don’t get involved, and I’ve been very involved,” he said. “We moved here looking for a good, stable family oriented community.”

Larry Smith

Although he has already served nine years on the Parks and Recreation District Board, Smith said he tries to approach each topic with an open mind.

Smith was appointed to the board in 1998, elected for a first term in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. He is running for re-election this year against Poarch and Debbie Smith.

“I think I really come to the board with no agenda,” he said. “I don’t take any of the decisions that we have to make personally — I really look at them as to what benefits the taxpayers (and) the voters.”

The most immediate issue facing the district right now is the need for a new aquatic center to replace the 54-year-old outdoor pool, he said. He added the population growth occurring in Prineville creates new challenges and needs for recreation in the area.

“Because of the rapid growth that we’re experiencing in our community — and really it’s the residential growth that I’m referring to — I would like to see a strong trail system develop to tie into our existing trail system and then also tie into these newer residential areas,” he said.

Smith, who works at Les Schwab Tire Companies, said that he considers serving on the Parks and Recreation board as a civic commitment.”I think it’s important for individuals to volunteer for whatever is needed within their community,” he said. “I had a daughter (who is now an adult) that used the park system, we still use it as a family, so I enjoy the benefits of the parks also.”

Charles Poarch

After attending every Parks and Recreation board meeting for more than a year, Poarch said he decided to run for what he thought would be an open seat.

“I decided if you’re going to have anything to say about it, you’re going to have to run for it,” he said.

Now Poarch has two opponents in the race for the board’s Position 4 seat.

Poarch said he thinks the board should not have put the measures to build and operate a new aquatic center back on the May ballot after a defeat in November. He would oppose asking voters again to approve a three-pool center if it does not pass this time.

“The goals that I would apply would be to pay for what you get, not look for things which would be good 20 years from now,” he said. “You can’t keep floating bond issues and that because sooner or later you’re going to run out of money.”

Poarch said he has “not directly” done any campaigning, but he has been talking to people in the community.

“I’ve put out my credentials and that I would attend all the meetings,” he said, noting that he has often noticed members skipping board meetings since he began attending.

He added that he has “years and years of experience” on various boards in Prineville and Crook County. He is a former member of the both the city and county planning commissions, he said.

“Since I arrived in Crook County in the late ’70s (after serving in the military), I have volunteered for various boards at least 90 percent of the time,” he said.

Debbie Smith

Working with members of the Parks and Recreation District Board and encouraging voters to approve a new aquatic center for the last two years convinced Smith to run for a seat on the board.

“I got to see actually how much the parks really do for our community,” she said. “When you look at their programs they put on, from trail walking to painting classes to karate classes, there is just so much there, and if we didn’t have our park and rec district there would be very little to do in this community.”

A lifelong Prineville resident, Smith — who is not related to the other candidate for the seat, Larry Smith, but is married to a different Larry Smith — has been a member of many different community organizations.

Smith and her husband own ABC Fence Company in Prineville, and she said her daily interaction with residents of the community would be an asset on the board.

“I’m out with the public a lot in my business and I’m always talking to people, and when somebody mentions something to me, I feel like I could take it back to the board and kind of voice their opinion or ideas,” she said.

In addition to seeing the pool bonds pass, Smith said she would like to increase the number of programs the district offers for residents.

“Anything that can come to Prineville that gives us some kind of entertainment is going to be a plus for the community,” she said.

Donna White

For the last two and a half years, White has been one of the most active supporters for replacing Prineville’s outdoor pool with a three-pool aquatic center.

Now she is running unopposed for a seat on the board of the Crook County Parks and Recreation District Board, which would run the pool if voters pass measures to build and operate it in the May election.

As a board member, she said, she would hope to take a less vocal role for her first year or so.

“I’m hoping to just kind of sit back and learn a lot the first year,” she said. “I think there’s an awful lot to learn.”

With the growth in the area and projects on the table for the board — like new sports fields near the Crook County Fairgrounds and a pavilion in Pioneer Park — White said she thinks it’s a good time to get involved.

“There’s just a lot of growth, a lot of things going on, so I think it’s going to be a very fun and exciting time to be a part of the parks board,” she said.

After attending many parks district meetings, White said, she would be a dedicated board member and attend as many meetings as possible.

“I have a lot of interest in my community and I have been very active on a number of committees,” she said. “I see a need, definitely, and I hope I’m the one that kind of rounds out the board.”

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