Forsyth County commissioners recently discovered they don’t have the authority to dictate use of local parks facilities.
The revelation came about while officials looked into a resident’s request to use county playing fields for a travel football league.
Per county ordinance, the authority to create policies, rules and regulations for field use rests with the parks and recreation board. Commissioners don’t have oversight on those matters — for the time being, anyway. They voted 5-0 on Tuesday to hold public hearings about changing those rules.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said after the work session that the ordinance states "the director of parks and recreation gets to make the decision about the use of fields."
The criteria for field use, Jarrard said, are outlined in a policy approved by the parks board.
"The board of commissioners is not in a position to overrule that," he said. "So that’s why they made the decision … [for staff] to go back and change those ordinances, so they do in fact have more input into the use of county facilities."
The vote followed nearly an hour of discussion on the rule itself, field space across the county and questions about the parks board’s actions on travel football early in the year.
The issue arose after a presentation by Stuart Wrba, president of the West Forsyth Youth Football Association.
The travel football team, Wrba said, has not been able to lease county fields since its formation in 2007.
Wayne Maddox, manager of the parks department’s athletics division, said the current field use policy sets certain criteria for the limited space to ensure established booster clubs don’t get edged out by splinter groups.
In the case of football, the Forsyth County Youth Football Association has not expressed interest in having a travel team, which is typically considered a more competitive league, Maddox said.
"For whatever reason, there are independent teams out there that have broken away," he said. "They’re independent. They find their own practice fields and they find their own game fields.
"They don’t follow any Forsyth County parks and recreation procedures."
With limited "rectangle" fields in the county, the association has argued that space doesn’t exist to accommodate independent teams.
Maddox said the county has 23 or 24 fields, though participation levels show need for about 27.
Wrba asked the commissioners to consider that his group, as county taxpayers, also has rights to those fields.
In February, the parks board voted to approve a policy allowing travel football teams to bypass normal criteria to use county fields.
The policy would have allowed travel teams to use the fields if they met the requirements and if space were available.
Nine days later, however, the board voted to rescind the policy, stating that a miscommunication had led the panel to believe staff had recommended it.
Commissioner Todd Levent said Tuesday he had heard a different story about why the vote came back.
According to Levent, three members of the parks board told him that Commissioners Brian Tam and Pete Amos implored them to reconsider.
Both men denied the allegations, which Amos called "ludicrous."
Tam pointed out that his appointed parks board member voted in opposition to the travel football plan both times, and Amos’ representative abstained from the decision.
Regardless, Levent said the commissioners need an avenue "to vote on these things if we need to."
Commissioner Patrick Bell agreed that elected officials should be able to make that call.
"There’s no reason this board should not have the authority to make decisions on the use of county facilities," Bell said.
Jerry Kinsey, parks and recreation director, said the parks board was not aware the ordinance enabled it to make that final call.
"We thought the recreation board was an advisory board," Kinsey said.
Following the commissioners’ discussion, the parks board plans to discuss "approval of facilities usage policies" at its meeting next week.