Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Park Commission this afternoon.
Dear members of the Park Commission,
First of all, I would like to thank you for your extraordinary volunteer service. As I drive around this community every day, I can see that your stewardship of our parks and open space is outstanding.
As you know, the Park Commission, under its enabling legislation, is an autonomous board, and I do not have the authority to veto a vote of the commission or influence you in any way, other than by expressing my opinion, both formally and informally. I would ask you to consider the following:
I think last night, from all accounts, was a very difficult evening that included some regrettable exchanges. Many people have expressed to me that they felt uncomfortable during the meeting due to the heated and negative nature of the exchanges and the high level of disagreement. Now, however, the question is how we reconcile and achieve common ground on an issue that creates such strong emotions.
In my opinion, this is a two pronged issue:
- Golfers who pay money to play golf have every right to enjoy their experience free of unleashed dogs, the fear of hitting someone with a golf ball, and the fear of anything that lessens their golf experience.
- Mount Hood is a park as well as a golf course, and other users of the park should be able to enjoy the non-golf facilities with their leashed dogs.
Golfers fuel the economic engine that is our golf course, and because of them, and our investment in the course, we have been able to improve playing fields and recreational opportunities across this city. You are the stewards of that business venture, and it has been highly successful due to your oversight and commitment. As part of that stewardship, you have an obligation to ensure that all users of the golf course are safe and also that users obey the rules.
I agree that dogs should not be allowed on the greens or fairways, which are extraordinarily expensive to maintain and repair. Employees of the golf course should never be threatened or attacked by dogs, whether leashed or unleashed. Dog walkers should not be allowed to impede play by cutting across the fairways, roughs, or greens, especially where there are blind tees. These are very reasonable rules that are in line with our mission for the golf course and its many users.
However, the park is composed of two recreational components. It is the Mount Hood Memorial Park and Golf Course. The key word is “Park.” Thanks, again, to your efforts, Mount Hood offers many recreational opportunities outside of golf, such as sledding, ice skating, walking, and hiking. People come to the park all year long to enjoy the facilities, and they should be able to bring along their leashed dogs. I find a ban on leashed dogs to be both unreasonable and unenforceable, and I also feel it creates far too much unrest in the community. The issue we are facing is a challenge, but I do not think, with all due respect, that it warrants a total ban on dog walkers.
The Park Commission was right to bring up the issue, and the discussion around it presents an opportunity moving forward to find a real solution. We have heard from individuals who advocated for the dog park as well as those who are fed up with unleashed dogs and irresponsible dog owners in our school playgrounds. Now is the time to bring them together, as a small subcommittee or task force, to achieve common ground. I think the parameters of that common ground are the following:
- Dog owners and their leashed dogs have the right to use Mount Hood Park.
- Paying golfers have the right to play golf without feeling threatened or having their play impeded by dogs or their owners.
- We must provide education, at Mount Hood and across the city, to enhance greater community between dog owners and those who use the parks.
- We must consider how to continue to improve enforcement of existing regulations.
We have already come a long way with regard to enforcement. While we cannot afford to have an officer monitor the park 24 hours a day, we also do not need that sort of surveillance. Most people in Melrose follow the rules, and we have had successful educational campaigns about recycling, littering, and other regulations. The problem is dealing with that small handful of people who are abusive, and I think we have identified a three-pronged approach toward better enforcement:
- The golf management company has been handing out notices and verbal warnings to people who bring unleashed dogs onto the golf course. That is the management’s responsibility. Golf Management is the first line of defense in ensuring compliance with the City’s leash law. That must continue.
- Our dog officer has agreed, in her limited hours, to provide additional oversight, as she has the right to ticket if needed.
- The police are another line of defense. If an individual is told to leash a dog and refuses, or refuses to leave the park, the police should be called. That individual would potentially be subject to trespassing charges, as well as being ticketed for violating the City’s leash law.
Chief Lyle believes that this is no different from the other phone calls the police get for a variety of non-life-threatening issues. Our police department is always happy to enforce the law and to ensure a high quality of life for all of our residents. We are never going to fully solve this problem, but as with all code violations, we must do the best we can and use education first, and punitive action when needed.
I believe the rule passed by the Park Commission last night should be put on hold as soon as possible, until a group of people is assembled who are willing to serve together, maybe using the parameters I have outlined above, and start a respectful, positive, solution-driven dialogue about this issue.
I am available to assist you in any manner to facilitate this process.
Robert J. Dolan