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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Late Season Snow Blamed For City Recreation Issues

Issue Date: June 7, 2018

At a long meeting on Thursday, May 31, Peshtigo Parks and Recreation Committee discussed time Parks and Recreation Director Dave Zahn has spent recently on preparing and maintaining ball fields, which are used by both the school and community baseball and softball organizations.

Mayor Cathi Malke felt the school should do more of this, and school representatives at the meeting - Athletic Director Bill Wickman and Maintenance Supervisor Brian Williams - said they are willing to help get fields ready for their games if Zahn asks. They had to leave for a ball game before the meeting ended, and the committee agreed to set up a meeting with them again in future for more discussions.

Zahn asked the committee not to upset the arrangements by which his department is allowed to use school facilities for city recreational programs at no charge, with the school taking care of preparations and follow-up cleaning.

Extended discussion somewhat came to the conclusion that this was an unusual year, in which regular maintenance of parks and other city properties, as well as ball games, were unusually compressed because of the late season blizzard.

Those present for the meeting, in addition to Zahn, Jillian Schutte, Malke, Wickman and Williams were aldermen Mike Behnke and John Berendt, who are members of the committee; City Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal; Ryan Haulotte, president of Peshtigo Youth Baseball; Jenifer Fox-Gerrits, who identified herself as a potential future school board member, plus representatives of Peshtigo Youth Baseball and Softball organizations including Joel Salzman, Melissa Klimek, Pat Robbins, Randy Bero, Michelle Winkler, JV and Summer Softball coach Debby Etling, Francie Reif, Keith Klimek, and a representative of the press. Wickman and Williams had to leave early, as did Malke.

At the start of the meeting Alderman Jillian Schutte, committee chair, asked Zahn how much time he has spent on the ball fields, and said there had been complaints about things being neglected elsewhere in the city that should have been done.

Zahn asked exactly what is not being done. He had been asked to keep track of his hours, and turned in a report showing 35.5 hours spent preparing the fields between April 9 and May 24. The greatest amount of time, eight hours, with the help of a community service worker, was on Thursday, May 3, when there had been rain the night before and two fields had to be prepared for ball games. It generally takes one and a half hours to prepare a field for a game, he said. That includes dragging, cleaning dugouts, and putting lines down.

Wickman said in the six years since he became Peshtigo School district athletic director the school has never prepped the ball fields, and has never been asked to do it.

Malke said on Friday, May 18 she contacted Zahn by phone and asked him to get the planters out because she had a group of volunteers lined up to plant flowers in them on Monday, in preparation for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and Zahn had told her he had no time to get it done. She was able to change the work date. "My priority is the city and Dave is a city employee," Malke declared. She said 24 people pay to sponsor the flower planters and they have to look nice. She felt the school budget should allow them to pay someone to prepare the ball fields for their games.

Zahn said he had been asked to keep track of time only for preparing for school ball games. He said getting fields ready for other ball games is his responsibility.

There was discussion on things done by volunteers, and the fact that Zahn doesn't get help from his young summer workers until school is out for the year.

Behnke noted in the past parents of the Peshtigo Bulldogs came out in spring, cleaned fields and dugouts, painted them, put up banners, and did more general cleaning.

"We still do that every year, but that's not the school, we're volunteers," said one of the ladies present.

Behnke said the flower pots are planted by volunteers too, but the city also has several parks to be prepared, mowed and kept up.

However, he pointed out a few weeks earlier Peshtigo had the biggest snowstorm since the 1800s, "and that put things way behind."

Wickman said this year, as soon as the snow was gone, the school and Bulldog parents had a big cleanup, "What you heard about us not doing anything, that's not true," he declared.

Haulotte agreed that what Wickman said was true. He aded that until three years ago the organizations acted very independently - school, city programs - Peshtigo Youth Baseball and Girls Softball - but now they all cooperate and work closely together.

He said PYB ad the other groups spent $5,500 in 2016 on the ballfields; $7,017 in 2017, and so far this year they have spent over $6,600. He said Zahn was there with the truck and worked with the volunteers on their cleanup day. They re-seeded the infields, not just to make them look better, but to improve their playability. This saves the city money. He said on a properly prepared field there was no expense for watering, while an unprepared infield required 4,000 gallons. He added that the volunteers are very willing to help on selected days, but it is very difficult for them to organize work on a daily basis.

"We share the ball fields, so we all contribute to their care," he said.

People there shared reports of how the organizations have been helping each other, but agreed there is no way the volunteers could do the work on a daily basis.

Schutte said she wants to be sure everybody is on even ground, and from a city budget standpoint, they need to know where the money is being spent.

"We don't want us to be on one side or the other, not the city versus the school versus the organizations,"Haulotte declared."We're all working together. We're on the cusp of something great!"

Zahn said the number of programs he runs at the school, at no charge, would amaze the committee, and the city is not charged for the number of hours worked by school personnel to make that possible.

Robbins recalled years ago there was the same type of dispute about work done by the city for the school."Let's all just work together," he declared.

Malke said she hd received complaints about other things not being done in the city, and said the city can't send mowing notices to private property owners when the city properties and parks aren't mowed. She was concerned that the buoys weren't out at the beach prior to Memorial Day weekend, when there were about 200 people using it. There is a very sharp drop off due to dredging there.

Zahn said he had to make arrangements to borrow a pontoon boat to put the buoys in, but he would have it done by June 1, which was the following day.

There was a suggestion to put up "Swim At Your Own Risk" signs to reduce city liability, and Zahn said there is already one posted.

One of the ladies present said everybody in the city is complaining about yards looking bad, including their own.

Zahn noted the summer ball season started on May 14, and his summer help does not start until school is out. Schutte wished she had been involved in pre-employment interviews, and felt the high school students should work on Saturdays until school is out.

Zahn said he had asked for help to lime the fields, and that help was provided.

Several in the audience complimented Zahn's work and involvement.

Malke felt the issue should have been between the school and the city, and wondered why the large contingent of PYB and softball people were there. Schutte said she had invited them. She said everybody uses the fields, and she wanted everyone on the same playing field.

Haulotte said PYB hd 70 volunteers out on cleanup day

Malke said she received complaints about long grass and weeds on city properties, and it was agreed that when the two student summer employees start work they will be put to work weeding and grass cutting immediately.

Zahn said he is constantly told there have been complaints, "but I never know from who, and exactly what the complaint is." He felt it unfair that he is not given details on the reported complaints, and wished people would be told to call him directly.

That led to a decision by Schutte that Zahn would draw up a form for complaints that could be obtained at the city clerk's office and put into a suggestion box. She said people would not have to sign them, but should include a phone number. Those without a number would be ignored as "someone just blowing off steam." She said she would expect Zahn to have every legitimate complaint resolved within a week. Schutte would like the complaint form to be on the city web site also.

Malke said later it was all about how they can better get things done, "It's all about improving. We can only do so much and then we need help." She felt Zahn should have asked the school for help.

There was discussion on goose fencing at the park. Zahn has some that will be put up and then taken down for the fishing tournament the second week in June. Schutte said she also had done some research and had some ideas and would review options with Zahn after the meeting.


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