WEIRTON The parks board faced some difficult questions at the regular meeting Thursday, and answers were not necessarily reached.
Board member Deb Witkowski read an excerpt from a letter addressed to Terry Weigel, executive director, from Dr. Rachel Gilman of All About Women Health Associates Inc. regarding Millsop Community Center's family membership option. The letter was forwarded to other members of the parks board as well, and Gilman wrote a separate letter to the editor on the topic, which was published in the Herald-Star on Jan. 26.
Marriage as a requirement to purchase a family membership, which is cheaper than an individual membership, amounts to discrimination against non-married people and their families, Gilman stated in her letters.
"West Virginia and Ohio have two of the highest obesity rates in the country. If we are truly advocating family wellness, we should be inclusionary rather than exclusionary. Many households today are two non-married adults (gender irrelevant) with children. Some are same-sex couples. Some are single parent, grandparent and children. Some are male and female adults cohabitating with children. Are we really comfortable not offering them the affordable opportunity to exercise together as a family?" she asked.
In the letter to Weigel, Gilman included an example of a more inclusive definition of "family," which can be found at other community centers in the United States: "a household unit must operate as a single financial and economic unit above and beyond merely sharing living arrangements and must share in the family resources and income as a unit."
Witkowski voiced her support for changing the rule, noting that Millsop's membership has been decreasing recently and competition from other gyms and fitness centers is on the rise in the region.
"I think it's time to adjust our policy to benefit the society that we serve. I feel that our mission as a facility is to offer recreation and wellness to the community," she said. "I think that Rachel has given us an opening with the wording she has included about the definition of a family, and I am 100 percent behind allowing this to go through."
Other members of the board were not as enthusiastic about the possibility.
"I don't think we should go there ... I think it will cause us problems," said Doug Finton, board member.
Board member William Curenton expressed concern about people "abusing the system" if the change were implemented. He did not elaborate.
"This is not an issue about same-sex relationships. Let's make that very clear," board member Edwin Bowman specified. "The thing that concerns me is, if we adopt that, I don't know what this would cost us. It could result in lost revenue. Again, any decision on this will have nothing to do with same-sex relationships. I really want to emphasize that."
Bowman said that the decision rests on the projected loss or gain of revenue.
Weigel mentioned that men and women who cohabitate together and share children but are not married are ineligible for family packages as well. He said he believes that it's a good idea to think about developing a "household" membership option and he appreciated the definition that Gilman included as a guideline, but ultimately there are numerous possible outcomes to consider.
"I think I'm stating the obvious when I say that the traditional family is not the traditional family anymore. At some point in time we have to recognize that," Mike Adams, board member, commented.
"Why can't we be the trail blazer?" Witkowski asked. "Why can't we create the criteria that allows something like this? I think we need to explore this. I think we need to be the ones that welcome the nontraditional family in here. We need to be the ones to give them a place to get well and healthy and enjoy recreation. I think we need to update ourselves. When it comes to grandparents, hey, if they are raising the kids, why not give them a break?"
The board opted to table the matter until the next meeting in order to research potential outcomes in terms of the effects on revenue.
In other business, progress on the restoration of the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool at Marland Heights Park is stalled for the moment until legal counsel is available to answer some questions for the parks board. Members of the Marland Heights Community Association were told that their goal of obtaining the deed for the property may or may not actually be possible.
"According to West Virginia code, we cannot do that right now," Ted Dragisich, board member, said. "We have asked Vincent Gurrera (city attorney) to clarify several issues pertaining to this so that we can move forward. Until we hear back from him, we are at a stand-still."
According to Bowman, the biggest issue is the requirement for property to go through public auction first.
"It's extremely important that we do this by the books, correctly," board member Mike Adams noted.
Iris Himmelrick of the MHCA reported to the board that she went to Charleston for the induction of the pool into Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's latest endangered properties list last week, and several fundraising events have been planned by the MHCA. On April 5 the group plans to sign people up for the Kroger Rewards program at Lickety Splits in Marland Heights, and a car show is scheduled for June 15. There also will be a craft show on July 26 and the third-annual Oldies Dance with Legend and DJ Harry Stock is set for Aug. 30. Plans for a quarter auction also are in the works.
In old business, Bowman pointed out that replacing or repairing an outdated hot water tank is still a top priority. Coty Shingle, parks director of maintenance and operations, said that bids should be coming back in time for next month's regular meeting.
The subject of security at youth league basketball games came up again, as there have been at least two more altercations involving coaches and parents, according to Bowman. The cost of hiring an off-duty police officer to fill the position is too high, so board members agreed to research alternatives for next season.
"We need to be pro-active about this going into next year," Bowman said.
The board also voted unanimously to approve property and liability insurance under the city's policy with Travelers Insurance Co.