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ARD naming policy not worth paper that it’s printed on

Our View
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What’s the use of having a policy if it’s not followed? The Auburn Recreation District board of directors should be asking itself that question following yet another decision to avoid following a park-naming policy that requires a review process and public involvement. The board opted last week to table public input on the naming of a 28-acre park parcel donated to the district by the estate of 1956 Nobel Prize winner William Shockley and his wife, Emmy. The district is moving ahead with acquiring the property, but shows no interest in involving the public in establishing the park name. That’s wrong, whether it’s the area’s first dog park or a tract that could support a variety of hiking, biking and other open space pursuits. More than four years ago, the Journal took the ARD board to task for the same issue regarding the Ashley Memorial Dog Park, named after Ashley Emma Harris Haupt. The public was not invited or involved in that decision either. We understand that park funding isn’t what it used to be. Taxpayers aren’t in the frame of mind these days to lay out thousands, let alone millions of dollars, to improve existing parks or purchase new ones. At the same time, park district board members need to be creative and opportunistic when it comes to improving public lands. When donors or a foundation steps forward to fund improvements, as one did in converting a portion of Ashford Park for dog lovers, the board should listen. The dog park is now one of the most heavily used and beloved parks in the ARD system. And when an estate offers 28 acres to the district for future park space, and asks for naming recognition in return, the board should listen. But the board also must show some judgment. Accepting the land in exchange for naming rights wouldn’t normally be a big issue, but the Shockley property is different. In addition to winning the Nobel Prize for his work in electronics, Shockley was an outspoken proponent of eugenics, which supports one race’s reproduction over another because of perceived genetic superiority. In other words, white supremacy. Is that something Auburn wants on its resume? Most would say no, and even park land proponents at last week’s meeting hope the site will have some sort of eugenics disclaimer, or have the Shockley name hidden. Board member Gordon Ainsleigh said an injection of irony might help, adding any park sign should include language the park was acquired in the year America elected Barack Obama, the first black president. The policy is clear. Naming should be done publicly, and names should honor someone who has contributed to the community. But maybe it’s the policy that’s the problem here. Some might even say public naming of public parks is an old, and noble, idea that’s no longer relevant. Maybe the public doesn’t care. In an era in which sports teams auction off their stadium names and corporate sponsors still find the cash to brand their name on buildings and events, park board members would be better off rescinding the policy than not following their own guidelines. But even private sports teams generally sell naming rights to the highest bidder, with an open bidding process that is fair to all. Park naming should not be done behind closed doors with secretive no-bid contracts. It would be better to throw out the policy altogether than to switch it off and on, depending on the nature of the offer.