Optimists getting $25K refund from city

By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor

CLARKSTON — Last summer, the Clarkston Area Optimist Club donated $25,000 to the city’s Friends of Depot Park organization for improvements and additions to the downtown space.
Last week, the city received a letter from Optimist Club President Deb Berry asking for the money to be returned.
At the Feb. 12 council meeting, council voted unaimously to return the money to the Optimists.
Previously at the Jan. 22 city council meeting, a recommendation from the planning commission to hold a public hearing to gauge interest in park additions was approved and is being scheduled to coincide with the March 11 city council meeting.
Also at that Jan. 22 meeting, there was a request from the Optimists to build a 27-inch by 39-inch sign in the park stating the Optimist Creed. After discussion, council voted 5-0 to table the matter pending a review from the planning commission.
Also at the Feb. 12 meeting, council voted unanimously to not allow the Optimist Creed sign in Depot Park.
“Concerns brought forward by our club membership have led to CAOC Board of Directors discussions regarding the use of the funds given ($25,000),” said Berry in the letter dated Feb. 1. “Although funds were allocated in good faith, as indicated in a letter to the Friends of Depot Park dated Aug. 7, 2023, it had come to our attention that the vision for Depot Park improvements is uncertain.
“Given that a public forum is being considered that would determine the use of these funds, our Board of Directors is requesting a return of said funds in light of possible delays while public consensus is being sought. In our opinion, such action would also benefit Friends of Depot Park in alleviating pressure to meet unknown community expectations.”
Then at the Feb. 5 planning commission meeting, a 5-0 vote denied the sign request due to the potential precedent that could be established by installing a sign of that size. Those meeting minutes stated that allowing a sign “might be construed as permitting proselytizing by special interest groups.”
Mayor Pro Tem Laura Rodgers said regarding the refund that the city has no choice in the matter.
“(The Optimists are) a philanthropic organization that gave us $25,000,” said Rodgers. “We want the community to put their stamp on what they want and what they don’t want within the park. I would think they would be supportive of that, but until that happens, they want their money back. We can’t really keep it.
Ultimately, it could not come back to us.”
“The whole idea of the Optimists, too, is that they are spending money for the purpose of children,” added Councilmember Peg Roth, also a member of the Optimists. “Right now, it’s sitting and not being used for anything. There are many things this could be used for. It got crazy because it was between two presidents of the Optimists and two mayors, so it got very complicated. Depending on what the consenus is of the public, then they can take that back to the board of the Optimists and they can say yay or nay, whether or not it’s something they want to go forward on.”
Councilmember Ted Quisenberry spoke at the Feb. 12 meeting.
“I think it’s shameful that in over six months, we could not figure out a way to get out of our own way to use something that was this beneficial to us,” Quisenberry said. “It sat there and it lingered for so long. It wasn’t until January that I asked (City Manager) Jonathan (Smith) what the status of this is and what are we doing with it. He ran off if ever I heard more of a beaurecratic mess of ‘Well, you need to do this, then it has to go to the planning committee and then they bring in the Friends of Depot Park and we have public meetings,’ and I’m just sitting there thinking this is absolutely absurd.
“If this is the process we have to take to be able to take some sort of generous gift that somebody has given to us, and now all of a sudden, now we’re giving it back. And it’s nice to know there’s a good chance we get it and a chance we might not either. We lost it for now. Hopefully, we get it back, but what are we going to do next time? What is the process? I still am not sure.”

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