ESCANABA — After more than a decade of managing the county’s parks, the Delta Conservation District announced its intent to terminate its agreement with the county Tuesday, ending a contract that would have left the district in charge of parks for the next 10 years.
“Things happened that we end up feeling that now we can no longer run Delta County parks for the county,” said Executive Director for the conservation district Rory Mattson, speaking on behalf of the district and its board of directors.
Mattson raised several issues between the county and the conservation district, running the gamut from funding to the county failing to form new committees to address park issues or making distributions to the district on time. The largest issue, however, was a 10-year contract approved last year.
“Probably the topper to the conservation district, myself and all the staff, was when we had two sitting commissioners run on the thing that if they got elected and the board was right, they were going to turn around and change that contract,” said Mattson.
The contract was controversial, primarily due to its length. It was the longest formal agreement between the two entities, which have been working together to manage the parks for more than 12 years but only entered into a contract for services in 2015.
According to Mattson, the contract’s length was necessary because it allowed the conservation district to make hires. He said potential new employees were turned off by the lack of security in their jobs.
The contract was approved in a split vote of the commission last year, with commissioners John Malnar and Theresa Nelson voting against the agreement. Nelson failed to secure reelection, but Malnar remains on the county board.
Mattson also pointed to what he called “Mommy/Daddy Syndrome,” where residents who were unhappy with how the parks were operated went to the county. He likened it to a child going between parents for a different answer.
“It’s very hard for a conservation district, or anybody outside of a county, to run a parks system like that,” he said.
The conservation district exercised its 120 notice required to terminate the contract, with the official end of its control being set for May 15. Until then, Mattson said they would be available for the county and assist in the transition to new management as needed. Still, the district will not implement changes or upgrades at the parks without the county’s direction.
“This is not going to be something that’s easily filled. The district has taken a lot of initiative on the parks, and it’s not going to be easy to fill their void. I think that we need to get moving on this immediately,” said Commissioner Bob Petersen, who is new to the commission but has previously served on the conservation district board.
As part of a series of changes to the board’s operation made Tuesday, the commission nixed a planned committee of the whole meeting that would have taken place before a regular commission meeting once a month.
Instead, the commissioners voted to start the first meeting of the month at 5 p.m. and add a “workshop” agenda item that can only be discussed until 6 p.m. Finding new management for the parks will be the first workshop item.