‘Everyone’s Opinion Matters’: Maplewood Mayor Pleads for Civility in Contentious Turf Debate

by The Village Green
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In a July 20 meeting that featured 25 residents calling in to speak on the contentious issue, the Maplewood Township Committee voted 4-1 to approve a bond ordinance that would allocate funds to design an artificial turf playing field for DeHart Park.

Residents were split, with 15 speaking out against the bond, naming environmental, health and social justice concerns, and 10 in favor citing continued closure of the grass fields plagued with drainage issues.

Turfing DeHart promises to be a topic of conversation through the fall, with a petition circulating to put it to a referendum for voters to decide on at the November election.

Mayor Frank McGehee introduced the bond at the July 20 meeting, and issued a plea for civility as the discussions continue, decrying the divisiveness and heated rhetoric “that has exceeded anything I have seen in our community.”

“To me, everyone’s opinion matters regardless of whether they have been a resident for decades or have just moved in,” said McGehee. “Everyone’s opinion matters even if we are not in agreement. We are all equals.”

Here are Mayor McGehee’s remarks in full:

Thank you again to the people who spoke tonight and to my colleagues as well.

Tonight as we discuss a bond to place turf grass on the athletic field at DeHart park. An up vote allows the township to move forward and commence on the next phase of a plan to address our overused fields and other overarching issues related to their conditions. Such as:

1. Replacing damaged and outdated pipes with new and more sustainable pipes.

2. Adding more basins to help redirect the water in problem areas.

This plan also includes us working to find green space and that is underway.

Recreational and organized sports activities for youth is at an all time high in the history of our community and placing turf grass on a portion or all of the athletic field box is not the end or conclusion of the work we need to perform to address the quality of life for our young people and families in Maplewood.

If we have learned anything during the pandemic, the importance of providing resources and facilities that allow our children to get away from devices and monitors and screens, is paramount for growth, physical and mental health, self esteem and fun.

Some of our most popular sports in our parks are the basketball courts in DeHart and Memorial park and our skate park in Maplecrest park. All of these sports both recreational and organized, are enjoyed by our youth on an asphalt or concrete surface.

And while I can appreciate those who do not want children participating in organized sports or rec activities on a turf grass field, that ultimate decision lands with their parents or guardians.

To the nearly hundred parents and loved ones of Black, Latin, multi-racial, Asian and white children who have emailed me, called me, stopped me at Village Coffee, Yale corner or the Bread Stand to provide their opinion on this issue.  Thank you.

Also, thank you to the residents which I have spoken with on Jacoby, Hughes Street, Harding, Brown, Van Ness Terr. and Boyden as well Euclid, Oberlin, Prospect and across our entire community footprint. Thank you for your insight and patience with this important issue.

To me, everyone’s opinion matters regardless of whether they have been a resident for decades or have just moved in. Everyone’s opinion matters even if we are not in agreement. We are all equals.

All of our public parks, fields and playgrounds belong to our entire community. And no one park or field is assigned to a neighborhood or block.  And nor do we turn away anyone using our parks from other municipalities.

The decision to originally make the DeHart athletic field organic has been an extremely costly one for us and the subsequent continued expense for maintenance of the organic athletic field has not helped.

I would be remiss if I did not briefly mention the divisiveness on social media regarding this topic that has exceeded anything I have seen in our community.

The attacks on the character of my colleagues using race or gender in an effort to convince or win over the opinion of others to align with a point of view is not only unacceptable but frankly is in the poorest taste.

These are the types of comments that if one was to express these statements face to face would speak more about the person saying these things than the individuals who they are targeting.

Tonight we will take a vote and I will be voting in support of this bond.  This may not be the end of this process but it is my hope that if there is more to come that we can find common ground and our way back to respecting each other and realigning with the community which we are all proud to call home.  Thank you.

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