A Grinding Tale

The Rogersville City Skate Park has always been a source of controversy. The park was initially unwanted by Town officials.  The battle to build was hard-fought and the facility is likely the only Town project ever funded, in part, by children under 16 years of age.

Spearheading efforts for the development was Rogersville resident, Jim Collier.   In early 2005, when Collier first introduced the idea, he faced an uphill battle.  Skateboarders were considered a public nuisance at the time.  The locals frequently complained.  Business owners sought to protect themselves from liabilities by making lots, drives and walks off-limits. The local police often responded to calls regarding “illegal boarders.”  There was really no safe place for them to go. As far as Collier was concerned, these were all good reasons to build a skate park.

The Town of Rogersville, however, displayed little interest in the project.

Consequently, Mr. Collier started a movement. This movement would later make the cheerful grandpa an unsuspecting hero to many Hawkins County kids.

Collier slowly began to generate public support for his cause.He attended meetings. He asked questions. He did the research. He offered solutions. He rode in parades and spoke with the media. He persisted until the town was finally willing to consider the idea.

In September 2005, the BMA agreed to establish a special committee. Alderwoman Anne Howe was assigned as BMA liaison. Other members included Collier, Jimmy Collier, Mark Collier, John Johnson, Brian Hartness, Nancy Barker and Don McGregor. The first order of business: invite the skaters to City Hall. As a result of this meeting with the skaters, a tentative design was created.

By November `05 the Town agreed: if Collier could raise half of the estimated project cost ($40,000) Rogersville would match funds.

In early 2006, Collier thought he had caught a break. The Town had agreed to apply for a Local Park and Recreation grant through the state of Tennessee.  Former Park Director Mary Jane Fink allegedly indicated to Collier that funds for the skate park would be included in the proposal for this $125,000 (50/50 matching) grant.

This was not the case. The skate park was not included.

Fink was dismissed by the Park Commission on January 30th. Immediately following her dismissal, a special called meeting was held to discuss the (unfiled) grant application, The Board of Mayor and Alderman opted, at that time, to earmark the monies for playground equipment, security cameras, construction of a new gazebo and replacement of benches.   Collier attended this meeting to make his pitch for inclusion in the proposal and was told: you’re too late.

In response to the exclusion, Collier was quoted as saying:

“We’ve raised a little more than $3,000 and it’s still coming in. But I’m a realistic person, and for a bunch of kids and a few adults to raise $40,000 is a tall order.”

Perhaps what would happen was a case of Bad Karma Comes Home.  The Town did not receive the grant. Instead, they found themselves facing public scrutiny over their hiring of a new park director, handling of sidewalk contracts and damn near everything else except the shine on their shoes.

Meanwhile, the the children filled that tall order for $40,000. It didn’t happen overnight. They worked hard for it. They solicited donations from area businesses and organizations. They collected pocket change from patrons outside local stores. The sold “Friend of the Skate Park” t-shirts. Collier and his committee organized a Fun Skate Day. They rolled through the parades on board and blades. Later, the children persuaded their mothers to lend their cookin’ skills to the cause – and the group organized ham breakfasts for $5 a ticket.

In July, Friends of the Skate Park had enough funding to be taken seriously. Rogersville Parks Commission designated a location for the skate park: the field above the city pool. By early 2007, the community had gotten behind the project. In March of that year, the concrete foundation was finally poured.

After the initial steps were taken, the skate park moved to completion rather quickly. Near the end of the construction phase, although the park lacked the finishing touches, skaters came in droves.

Citizens began to complain about the lack of safety gear, risk of possible injuries and subsequent lawsuits. Soon thereafter, the Town’s liability insurance provider Tennessee Municipal League voiced similar concerns. The park was padlocked with an indefinite opening date.

Then, the public criticized officials for contributing to the park without having first studied the liabilities. The Town’s response was to meet with members of the Parks Board and draft, then approve, official rules for the facility. Those rules included requiring registration of patrons and the issuance of an I.D. card that must be carried by skaters when at the park.  Skaters would additionally be required to wear a helmet, and those under 18 would wear knee pads and elbow pads within the facility. Mr. Collier recommended additional rules regarding appropriate behavior and use of facility.  Instead of approving these rules as an ordinance, the BMA and Parks Board agreed to publish the rules, along with operating hours, in the local newspaper for two weeks. Phillips indicated that public notice would make the rules enforceable by the city with penalties for violators. The penalties could include suspensions from the park and fines up to $50.

A grand opening date was scheduled for May. When the event was canceled due to inclement weather, the Town opened the park anyway.

The facility is in use most days. Police have periodically ticketed those skaters without helmets. And though boarders can still be found on the street, they are not as plentiful as they once were.

Nevertheless, the public is not pleased. Despite the fact that the town’s actions were a preemptive measure against possible litigation,many citizens fully expect the town to play nanny to the skaters. They do not feel the rules are being properly enforced. Or the rules are being enforced by the wrong agency. According to some, having the RPD write these citations is a waste of taxpayer funds because the RPD could be doing more constructive things… like counting bullets or chasing away the teens communing in area parking lots.  Some have suggested a safety monitor be hired. Others feel this should be an additional duty for the Park director or that Friends of the Skate Park should be responsible for ensuring that all skaters are wearing the proper gear.

Clearly, public opinion throughout the development of the Park has been chaotic. For this reason alone, those who were steadfast in their support deserve credit: Friends of the Skate Park Members, Phillips for addressing legal issues, Howe, other members of the BMA appointed committee, members of the Park Commission, Director Brice Lackey and each member of the Friends of the Skate Park organization.

Others, such as Mayor Jim Sells, seem to have had very little direct involvement. In fact, Sells seems uncomfortable with the project and, at times, downright ambivalent about it.

During the rescheduled Grand Opening on June 9th of this year, as Friends of the Skate Park members, Park Director Brice Lackey and Chamber of Commerce Director/Commitee Member, Nancy Barker, surrounded themselves with these amazing children who put forth such an extraordinary effort to develop this structure for the city, I was less than surprised when the Mayor slipped to the back of the crowd and refused to appear prominently in the ribbon cutting photo.

And when the photo appeared in the newspaper with a caption listing those present, it also said “Rogersville Mayor Jim Sells, in the back near the tree.”

Good, Sells was exactly where he deserved to be.


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