On Monday, the typically smooth waters of the Brentwood City Commission became choppy over a potential agreement to partner with the county in planning and creating a new racquet sports facility. The non-binding resolution to begin discussions with county officials about the move was deferred indefinitely during the meeting in a 4-3 vote.
Shortly after the YMCA at Maryland Farms announced in 2020 its plans to close, Brentwood city commissioners and staff began working with concerned residents, tennis professionals and county officials to look for ways to quickly provide year-round tennis and pickleball facilities.
The resolution presented at Monday’s meeting represented the culmination of months of these discussions. While it would not have set anything in stone, the resolution would have potentially created a city-owned facility operated by the county with costs split equally between the two.
Gordon Hampton, director of Williamson County Parks and Recreation, presented the potential logistics of this facility to the commission on March 9, and while many questions arose from the city commissioners, Hampton seemed confident this was the best path for the city.
“I would challenge anybody, public or private, to match our output, to match our numbers and to provide the services we provide at such an affordable cost,” Hampton said.
In the same discussion, Tom Tunnicliffe, county commissioner from Brentwood, supported Hampton saying, “I wouldn’t be backing Gordon and I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t think this was the best solution for Brentwood.”
As Brentwood commissioners carefully reviewed this proposal, they raised concerns over costs, revenue paths, priorities for Brentwood citizens and county recreation policies. To help address and mitigate these concerns, clauses allowing Brentwood to make changes to the county’s proposal were included in the non-binding resolution. “It doesn’t lock in a design, it locks in a framework for a conversation,” Commissioner Nelson Andrews explained.
However, at the May 18 briefing and the following commission meeting, commissioners were at odds over the resolution. Vice Mayor Ken Travis motioned to defer the resolution indefinitely, which would allow Brentwood to continue researching solutions on their own with the possibility of adopting the resolution later. While Commissioners Allison Spears and Susannah Macmillan voiced their support for the deferral, Commissioners Anne Dunn, Rhea Little and Andrews all expressed worry at the signal a deferral might send to the county.
“The reason I ask for a deferral is because I’m still very interested in considering the partnership with the county; this is not signaling that we don’t want to work with the county,” Travis said. “This just says I want more information and data collected and presented to the city commission.” Travis also suggested creating a racquet committee of citizens and commissioners to pursue a solution.
“Deferring that intentionally does strike me as a desire to deliberately cool the county commission’s interest in this project,” responded Andrews. “Or even if it’s not intentional, I think that would likely be a message received.”
City Manager Kirk Bednar offered some clarity on the choice at the Thursday briefing. “Time and effort wise, [city staff] would do the same, whether you defer it or approve it,” he said. “The issue is that if you pass it, we would be doing that in conjunction with the county, and if you don’t we would be doing it on our own. I feel like the question is what does the county do if they feel like there isn’t a commitment.”
Referencing past projects that relied on county partnerships like the splash pad, Little and Dunn noted the importance of city-county relationships to all aspects of governance.
“We have not had the successful budgets we’ve had over the years by not forming partnerships,” said Dunn. “To me, it would be fiscally irresponsible to turn down $5.5 million from the county to build this tennis center,” Little added.
While Travis and other commissioners repeated their desire to work with the county eventually and seemed confident that the history of partnership between the two would keep the possibility of an agreement open despite a deferral, Dunn noted that not all those partnerships were easy for Brentwood to obtain. And, although the county has shown its interest in this project, Little said that Brentwood is not the only place the money could go with other county parks projects next in line.
Noting his experience in negotiations from his career in sales, Travis said: “I don’t want to give away too much, and why would we ask [the county] to [research] it when we have our own people to do it.”
However, other commissioners called attention to the public aspect of the project. “I think we have to remember as commissioners, this is the public sector. We’re spending public tax dollars,” said Little.
Still, Spears and Macmillan backed Travis, and supported his idea for a committee without much discussion on the logistics of it. “There’s been so much to learn through this process,” said Macmillan. “I like the idea of this committee.”
“I don’t think a delay is necessary,” Dunn responded. “I don’t know what else we need to know. You can gather research ‘til the cows come home, if you want to delay long enough that we’re stuck having our own facility.”
Despite the best efforts of Andrews, Dunn and Little to pass the resolution. Travis, Spears, Macmillan and Gorman voted to defer. This action will pause conversations with the county and allow the commission to set up a racquet committee at the next meeting on June 12. The committee will explore options to lower costs, bring in revenue and more, but it is unclear how the county will respond and if the offer to split costs will remain on the table.
Also at Monday’s meeting, new board appointments were made. The biggest changes from last term are Mayor Mark Gorman’s removal of Carole Crigger from her eight-term post on the planning commission in favor of John Church, Spears joining the park board, Andrews joining the tree board and Little joining the environmental advisory board. The meeting also marked the first reading of the city’s budget, which will notably add to Brentwood’s 33-year streak of maintaining the same property tax rate. Find any information you missed from the meeting at http://cobaq.brentwoodtn.gov/agenda_publish.cfm.
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