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Baraboo parks director seeks inclusion advisory committee members

WiscNews - 11/4/2019

Nov. 4--The Baraboo Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department has been seeking individuals to serve on a newly created advisory committee focused on making city parks more accessible.

But it's not just accessibility for people with disabilities, Director Mike Hardy said. The city's Diversity and Inclusion Policy mandates the creation of the committee. Hardy said he created the inclusion policy adopted by council members at the end of October as a way to address a number of factors which could make parks less inviting for certain individuals.

"We know about the participants in our programs, what they like about our program and what they don't like about our programs," Hardy said. "What we don't know is those people who aren't involved, who aren't using our facilities, and why aren't they and what can we do better to address those."

The policy aims for "the inclusion of all persons" regardless of a variety of factors, according to the document, from ethnicity or socioeconomic level to sexuality and gender identity. It outlines a goal "to promote and maintain inclusion across all public spaces, facilities and programs that the Department manages." This includes any "characteristic that can be identified as recognizing or illustrating diversity."

Hardy said he began working an inclusion policy about eight years ago, but began re-evaluating it for consideration in 2018. His initial draft mostly focused on people with physical or cognitive disabilities, but when it was fully drafted in the last year, other factors were considered and included.

It will "better address staff training" and "continue a measurement of the diversity and inclusion of our facilities and programs," Hardy said.

It was recommended for approval Oct. 14 by the city Parks and Recreation Commission and subsequently approved 8-0 by Baraboo Common Council members with no discussion. Council member Mike Plautz, who also serves on the parks commission, expressed hesitancy over the policy.

"I just hope he's not searching for an issue to deal with," Plautz said. "As long as it doesn't create issues that don't exist."

Plautz, who noted he was not present at either of the meetings due to being out of the country for the last month, said he didn't understand the need for such a policy to apply to individuals who don't have a disability.

"The parks are free," he said. "They're open to everybody."

Economic status or gender identity isn't really a factor, he said. There haven't been any complaints filed, to his knowledge, about that type of discrimination in the city's parks, Plautz said.

"If someone brings problems to you, then you deal with it," Plautz said. "But otherwise you turn social engineering into policy before there's anything to deal with."

Plautz said he could see where there may be a need for an anti-discrimination policy for the parks department to apply to parks and recreation programs.

Hardy noted that he is searching for people with "non-traditional" backgrounds to contact him if they are interested in serving on the advisory committee. Part of their work will include identifying a source for the Kuenzi Scholarship Fund, which was established in 2010 with an estate left to the department for youth recreation programs. With the rate of the fund's use, Hardy noted that it will need to be replaced. The committee could help develop a new scholarship program for young people in need of aid and avoid adding to the city budget.

"An advisory committee will be working with me to look at all of our programs, all of our facilities and see what we're missing," Hardy said. "How can we better attract those populations we aren't attracting? How can our facilities better serve the needs of the community?"

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget.

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