Garner: Opinion

Editorial: On recreation, status quo likely to continue

No doubt, Johnston County towns and the county’s Sports Council would like for county government to play a greater role in parks and recreation in Johnston.

The Sports Council sees dollar signs in Johnston hosting regional and state youth sports tournaments, and the council thinks the effort to lure such tournaments could benefit from the county hiring someone to coordinate the recruitment and staging of such tournaments. Makes sense. As for Johnston towns, they would like the county to share in the cost of acquiring land, then building and maintaining ball fields. That makes sense too.

But here’s the thing: Johnston commissioners have no interest in playing a greater role in parks recreation, and the county’s towns and sports council are largely powerless to change the county’s minds.

Here’s why: The Johnston County Visitors Bureau, the sports council’s parent group, is essentially a child of county government, meaning it can’t bark too loud for county support of the sports council’s master plan for parks and recreation. Which is to say that while a teen can lobby – even pester – mom and dad for a car on his 16th birthday, he can’t make his parents spend the money.

We suppose the county’s towns could threaten to bar residents of rural Johnston from municipal recreation programs, but that would be an idle threat for a host of reasons. First, the towns wouldn’t bar rural residents because doing so would be petty, and second, while rural residents can’t vote in towns, they can and do spend their money there, and no town wants to discourage people from shopping within its borders. And speaking of money, most town recreation departments charge a premium to rural residents who take part in municipal recreation programs, and they would be unwilling to give up that money.

All of which is to say Johnston’s County Commissioners will play a greater role in parks and recreation only when prodded by people with power, and by that, we mean Johnston County voters.

When Johnston County passed its first in a series of school bond issues some years ago, a citizens’ committee led the charge. And that committee had the backing of a powerful group, namely the Johnston County Board of Education. On recreation, that powerful group would likely be the community recreation programs that maintain ball fields and run youth sports leagues in rural Johnston. They do so without the benefit of the tax base that towns enjoy, so their pleas would carry more weight with county commissioners.

In a story about the sports council’s master plan for parks and recreation in Johnston, County Commissioner Cookie Pope said the current system works well. More accurately, we’d say, the current system works as well as it can without a county role.

And that system won’t change until County Commissioners hear an outcry from the people who matter most to them.