Times change, some say. So the remarkably refreshing thing about Sugarhouse Park is how little it has changed over the years. The park's reliable commitment to open land and our community's need for unstructured recreational space is due to the fact that it is owned in-trust and governed by an independent nonprofit corporation.
More than 40 years ago, volunteer efforts joined forces with city and county tax appropriations to acquire the old state prison property for a park. The Sugar House Park Authority was incorporated as the jurisdictional entity, at which time it entered into a three-party trust agreement with the city and the county.Tax dollars are invested into the trust, and the Park Authority trustees - two of whom are representatives from the city and county offices respectively - are authorized to maintain and operate the property as a public park.
The trust agreement, signed in 1957 by the city mayor, the County Commission, and the Park Authority is in effect until the year 2055.
It should be reassuring to open land advocates to know that Sugarhouse Park has a 100-year covenant defended by its independent corporate board. But the current political disrespect for public open land makes nobody wonder at the most recent attempt to subvert the municipal trust agreement with the Park Authority.
The trustees have completed an amendment to their nonprofit articles of incorporation. The talented attorney who currently chairs the Park Authority put the final touches on the clarified, updated language and, as per the trust agreement, submitted the amendment to the city and the county administrations for ratification before filing with the recorder's office.
What came back to the Park Authority is another in a long line of impudent efforts to wrestle the park away from its independent and protected standing. Salt Lake City brought out its own version of amendments for the Sugar House Park Authority's articles of incorporation. This version once again represents municipal action that degrades the honor and respect due the corporation's purpose of keeping politics out of the park. The most inflammatory of the proposals prevent the authority from autonomously electing its own board members.
Obviously, the municipal administrations say they feel differently from their 1957 counterparts about the park's legal establishment. They feel that more accountability safeguards are needed because public funds are being spent by decisionmakers who are not answerable to the voters. They say there needs to be a change. I disagree.
Sugarhouse Park is being cared for by the Park Authority. The land could not be maintained any more effectively, and there would be less answerability and responsiveness to public open land issues if the city or county had their own way with it. I can see it now, the city would declare the park surplus property and the county would be letting billboards in.
Surely the intent of the Sugar House Park Authority is to provide consistent accountability for the long-term preservation of park land to be passed from one generation to the next. Can we not also expect our political leaders to be accountable and loyal to the trust agreement passed down from one administration to the next?
Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County administrations should honor the trust agreement and ratify the Sugar House Park Authority amendment request.
Voters should contact their elected officials and tell them to let the Park Authority take care of our park. The authority's trustees are capable, intelligent and caring individuals who are not cavalier about their fiduciary responsibilities to the park and the taxpayers who fund its upkeep. Clearly, each of them recognizes that they've been entrusted with a priceless park left to us by people of vision four decades ago.
Some things deserve to be treated as a legacy. Some things deserve loyalty and trust. Some things should never change.