Friday, November 16, 2007

A Dog-gone Place to Play

Some ideas refuse to die. They just won’t go away, no matter the obstacles thrown in their path. Some are bad ideas that sound good on the surface. Others are good ideas that just haven’t found the right time to catch on. But both share a common trait: they’re championed by a dedicated group of people that are diligent about resurrecting their concept on a regular basis.

One such idea is a dog park in Frisco. Picture a place where man’s best friend - and their owners - can frolic leash-less through an open meadow. Safely penned in by fencing and natural borders, the animals can chase around without fear of running in front of traffic or getting lost. And just imagine the wide variety of smells available to tempt even the most discerning canine olfactory palate. It’s an idyllic image and one that has clearly captured the imagination of Frisco residents for a number of years.

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand what a dog park is – and what it isn’t. The concept is simple: an enclosed park where owners could bring their dogs and let them run free. But it’s not a free-for-all. There are still rules. Some versions of a dog park include separate areas for small dogs, to keep them from becoming a mid-day snack for one of the larger breeds. And just because they’re off the leash does not eliminate the responsibility of the owner to clean up after their pets. Owners are cautioned not to bring sick dogs to the park, or dogs which might cause a disruption due to their reproductive cycle. And all visitors should be current on their vaccinations.

Dog parks can be an economic boon. Facilities in Ft. Worth and near White Rock Lake in Dallas are destination parks that draw visitors from miles around. Supporters of a Frisco dog park like to think that it, too, can become a draw for visitors. Plus, it could be a venue for a number of canine-oriented events throughout the year. The recent Barktoberfest celebration put on by the Frisco Humane Society might be one example. Either way, it certainly provides a place where dogs normally confined to the small yards most prevalent in Frisco can stretch their legs a bit.

It’s hard to tell when the first request for a dog park was logged with the Frisco parks department. A quick scan of the online city Q&A database shows requests dating back almost to the turn of the century. (The 21st century, that is.) And invariably, the response from Parks Director Rick Wieland has been something similar to: “The potential development of a dog park has been discussed several times over the past couple of years by the Parks and Recreation Board. While there is no current funding allocated for this project, I do believe that the Board is interested in such a project.”

Ah… funding. The Parks and Recreation Board is constantly balancing the various demands for facilities against their annual budget. Up to this point, the dog park just hasn’t risen to a high enough priority. Estimates for creating the facility vary widely. Mr. Wieland has cited figures over the years ranging from $200,000 up to one million, depending upon whether additional land would need to be purchased. Park supporters put the figure closer to $100,000, and reference a recent development in Denton, as well as the parks in Ft. Worth and Dallas. The Parks board can pick up some of that tab, but Mr. Wieland has mentioned the likelihood of a public-private partnership to cover additional costs.

In September, a group called Citizens for Off Leash Land Animal Recreation (COLLAR) presented their ideas to the Parks board. Then, at the most recent board meeting, Dudley Raymond, the Park’s Department’s Planning Superintendant, offered some concepts that might be included in a Frisco dog park, as well as a couple of possible locations. While nothing was settled – and the funding issue still looms – it certainly seems as though the project may move forward. To learn more about the dog park from its supporters, visit

Frisco provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities, ranging from baseball, soccer and football fields to wide open spaces and tree-lined trails. Perhaps a small facility dedicated to our four-footed friends is an idea whose time has finally come.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Referendum of the Minority

Americans take their right to vote very seriously. And Texans are more vehement than most about the ideals of “one person, one vote” and “majority rules.” Strange, then, that turnout at national elections remains dismal, and turnout for municipal elections is even worse. During this year’s Frisco City Council race, the number of people who voted was downright pathetic.

Well, to quote the popular Texas vernacular, them chickens have come home to roost.

In August, our City Council took up the contentious issue of late night liquor sales. Current law curtails the serving of alcoholic beverages after midnight. Many local businesses have complained that this puts them at a disadvantage when competing with establishments in neighboring cities, where the cutoff is 2 AM. After much debate, the council members passed an ordinance extending Frisco’s service hours. Six businesses then applied for and received permits to begin late night sales.

Not so fast.

The ink was barely dry on the ordinance before a group of citizens put together a petition to take the matter out of the hands of the council and put it to a public vote. This process is outlined in our city charter to provide citizens with a chance to have their say on any ordinance of significant importance. That’s democracy in action.

But in a city of nearly 100,000 people, how many would have to sign such a petition to second guess our elected officials? Two thirds, maybe? Half? No, the charter requires a valid petition to contain thirty percent – almost one third – of the number of voters in the last municipal election. Clearly the intent is that only those issues of a significant nature would be addressed through this process. Indeed, in over 20 years, it has never been invoked.

Now here’s the sticky part. Since less than 3000 people voted in last May’s election, that means that a mere 168 signatures were required on the petition. That’s one TENTH of one percent of the population of Frisco.

Two things are disturbing about this situation. The first is that such a small number of people can effectively overturn just about any decision of the city council. In this instance, based on an interpretation of the charter, the council suspended the licenses they had already granted and decided not to accept any further applications. Since the next scheduled municipal election isn’t until May, this “super-minority” has effectively nullified the action of the council for at least seven months. Worse, it has adversely affected several of the businesses who had licenses, causing some to lay off employees.

The second issue of concern is the prospect that these kinds of referenda will become the norm in our city government. We’ve seen a similar effect in California, where every other issue is settled by a very expensive election. The reason we elect a city council – or a legislature – is so they can represent us and make decisions on our behalf. To some, it may sound ideal to have every issue decided by a popular vote. But I’m far more comfortable with the representative government our Founding Fathers established that allows for reasoned debate among elected officials.

Of course, the whole referendum process would function properly if a reasonable number of people took the time to vote in each election. Then, only those key issues which matter to a large number of voters would get on the docket. Hopefully, in the upcoming mayoral election, more of you will get out to cast a ballot. After all, the concept of one person, one vote only works when you actually DO it.