County Defends Rec Plan

WINNSBORO – Criticism of how County Council plans to spend $3.5 million on recreation hit the fan Monday night, triggering the dreaded Race Card and sparking tensions between Council and the public.

Addressing Council during the first public comment portion of the meeting, District 2 resident Beth Jenkins denounced recreation spending entirely, telling Council, “We don’t need playgrounds. We need jobs.” Selwyn Turner, also from District 2, suggested Council should pool its resources and concentrate on a single major facility in the downtown area.

The $3.5 million is currently divided up into $500,000 allotments for each district, with district 3 and 5 focusing primarily on mini parks, District 2 a playground on Peay Ridge Road, with larger projects hoped for in districts 1, 4, 6 and 7. But Turner said that in the 1940s and 1950s, the community benefited tremendously from a large recreation facility, offering supervised activities and situated on the site that currently houses the Fairfield County government offices.

“You may argue that a single complex would not help outlying areas, but look at the cars in the student parking lot at Fairfield Central,” Turner said. “Almost everyone of driving age has a car nowadays, and those that don’t could organize car pools. Furthermore we have a little-used expensive transit system that might be able to bus people in. Where there’s a will there’s a way. We could afford to have good supervision. If we can’t, we don’t need to build anything unsupervised like plastic mini parks in seven districts, which could be likely a haven for drugs to come in.”

Betty Gutschlag, of District 7, echoed Turner’s concerns about mini parks becoming a hotspot for drug activity.

“You’ve got the money, you’ve got the talent and you’ve got the opportunity to make a complex instead of these mini parks,” she said, “that as you all know have been known in the past to be unsupervised and wonderful drug drops.”

Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3), in whose district the majority of the county’s mini park lie, questioned the assessment of parks as drug drops and asked Interim County Administrator Milton Pope to compile some statistics from the Sheriff’s Office.

“Does that statement imply that all parents’ children are drug dealers?” Trapp asked. “Most of my parks are in black communities. Does that imply that all the kids that go to these parks are drug dealers?”

The Sheriff’s Office told The Voice Tuesday afternoon that only a handful of drug cases had been made at any of the county’s mini parks and that the majority of the drug trade is conducted in residential settings.

Trapp also interpreted the suggestion of a large central recreational facility as an effort to roll back the clock on desegregation.

“It was mentioned earlier about recreation, taking us back to the ‘40s and ‘50s,” Trapp asked Pope, “could you give me some research (on whether or not) blacks were allowed in these recreation facilities back in the ‘40s and ‘50s?”

Turning to District 4 Councilman Kamau Marcharia, Trapp asked, “Did I misunderstand, Mr. Marcharia?”

“You weren’t allowed, Mike. Let’s move on,” Marcharia answered.

Near the close of the meeting, Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said drugs were an issue everywhere, no more or no less in any of the county’s parks. The main issue, he said, was providing recreational opportunities for the county’s rural outlying areas.

“I had access to this place right here when it was a facility,” Ferguson said, “but where would the children be now from every area from this county if this was the only facility in this county for them to deal with, with the transportation issues that they face every day? They wouldn’t have any recreation. I don’t know if an apology is what folks are looking for because were trying to do something out in the rural areas for the kids and the adults and the elderly people out there, but there’s not one coming as far as I’m concerned.”