October 14, 2020 10:26:14 AM
WEST POINT -- Following Tuesday evening's board of selectmen meeting, Ward 4's Keith McBrayer approached Parks and Recreation Director Jarrod McDaniel as others filed out of the boardroom.
"Well, I tried," he told McDaniel, flatly. "I'll try again next month."
McBrayer's fellow selectmen thwarted his motion to partially reopen city parks after seven months of shutdown due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, with a 3-1 vote, the board opted to table the matter until it meets again, which will most likely be in November.
"This was just a way to give some opportunities back to the community," McBrayer told The Dispatch after the meeting. "With a controlled environment, we can give them the chance to get out and enjoy the parks."
McBrayer's proposed partial parks reopening would have restored access to the tennis courts at Marshall Park and allowed -- under McDaniel's supervision -- coaches to reserve use of the baseball and softball fields at the Sportsplex for their teams.
It also would have offered access to playground equipment at Kid Town Park, where Lisa Klutts, director for the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance, had agreed to monitor how many people were allowed in at any given time.
"If things are going well, we can add to it," McBrayer said of the reopening plan during the meeting. "If it's not going well, we can take away from it."
Ward 2 Selectman William Binder disagreed, citing a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Clay County. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Mississippi State Department of Health website reports 642 total confirmed cases in the county since March and 20 deaths.
"I think on the side of safety ... we should leave them closed," Binder said.
His view coincides with the continuing recommendation of the two-person Parks and Recreation committee, made up of Ward 1 Selectman Leta Turner and Ward 3 Selectman Ken Poole.
Poole did not attend Tuesday's board meeting, but Turner -- while opposing McBrayer's motion -- said voting for even a partial parks reopening would "disregard" committee input.
To that, Binder offered a substitute motion to table the matter until Poole could be part of the public discussion. Though Ward 5's Jasper Pittman had seconded McBrayer's original motion, he ultimately cast the deciding vote to table it.
McDaniel told The Dispatch he understands both sides of the argument and would continue to respect the committee's and full board's decisions.
Since closing in March, McDaniel said, all gated access to the parks has been shut, and his staff even has removed the rims and nets from basketball goals.
Citizens are calling his office asking when the parks will reopen, he said. And while he personally wants to see the parks buzzing again, McDaniel has also been personally impacted by COVID-19.
His father-in-law died from the virus, he said.
"Sports are my job, but I also realize we are in uncharted waters," McDaniel said. "There's no playbook for this. The parks committee has taken a 'safety first' approach, and it's hard to argue with that. At the same time any parks director wants to see people be able to enjoy the parks.
"I would just urge the public to be patient and hang in there," he added. "We're going to get through this."
Other Golden Triangle cities, including Columbus and Starkville, have reopened their parks but require citizens to follow certain safety protocols, such as social distancing and wearing masks while indoors.
In other business, the board approved a midnight-5 a.m. citywide curfew for at least the next 30 days.
Police Chief Avery Cook recommended the curfew due to a recent rash of violent crimes, many of which he said involve minors and firearms.
Over the weekend, West Point police reported four shootings into dwellings, including one where someone was injured.
Cook indicated essential travel would be exempt from the curfew, for which the timeframe is identical to a countywide curfew already in place as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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