Council retains park name, yabba dabba doo!

This replica of Fred Flintone’s car will still be appropriate, as Flintstone Park is keeping its name. - Jim Larsen
This replica of Fred Flintone’s car will still be appropriate, as Flintstone Park is keeping its name.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

A year and a half after his death, outspoken former Oak Harbor City Councilman Rex Hankins is still at the center of controversy.

At their Tuesday meeting, city council members decided that Flintstone Park will not be renamed after the late councilman who helped save the waterside pocket park from being moved about four years ago.

Instead, the council decided by a 4-3 vote to send a compromise idea of naming a walking trail after Rex Hankins back to the city’s volunteer Parks Board for consideration.

The idea of renaming the park in memory of Rex Hankins, who died in office during the summer of 2000, was first suggested by city government watchdog Gene Coleman last fall.

“Rex was dedicated to the preservation of parks in our city,” Coleman wrote in a letter to the mayor. “In fact, he was instrumental in having an ordinance passed to insure that no park lands in the city would be sold unless approved by a vote of the people.”

Councilman Paul Brewer suggested renaming Flintstone Park in memory of Hankins because he helped stop the park from becoming the site of development in a land swap proposal. After learning of the swap proposal, Hankins came up with the ordinance that prevents parkland from being sold or swapped without a public vote.

But the park renaming proposal has a history of controversy. Tempers flared over the issue at a Parks Board meeting last fall. Brewer angrily lectured the board members after they decided against recommending the park rename, claiming that the decision was based on personal feelings about Hankins. He pointed out that the chairperson of the board, Helen Chatfield-Weeks, lost to Hankins as a write-in candidate for the city council seat.

Yet the board members were clearly following a 1998 city council resolution that sets five criteria for park naming. Hankins didn’t qualify as “a historical figure” because he hadn’t been dead more than a year at the time.

Then at a council meeting last November, in a heated 5-2 decision, the majority sided with the Park Board in denying the proposal for park renaming because Hankins didn’t fit the criteria.

Tuesday, Mayor Patty Cohen said she put the proposal back on the agenda, at council’s request, because now more than a year has passed since Hankins died.

Brewer made a motion to wait on considering the proposal until next month because he needed a chance to speak with Hankins’ family, but his motion was voted down.

After the meeting, Brewer claimed that Cohen purposely put the proposal on the agenda of the last meeting of the year for political reasons. If it had been voted on Tuesday, the renaming proposal would almost certainly had been voted down by 4-3 vote. But new Councilman Eric Gerber takes over for John LaFond in the new year. While LaFond was against the renaming, Gerber is an unknown and considered an independent thinker who may swing the majority vote.

But instead of voting on the proposal, Councilman Bob Morrison suggested compromising and renaming a planned walking trail after Hankins. The city has long had plans to put in a walking trail along the waterfront, from Freund Marsh to the marina. He pointed out that Hankins was famous for his daily strolls.

“Rex was a walker,” Morrison said. “He walked all over town, even when he was very sick.”

On the other hand, Cohen said she received a couple of letters from people who don’t want Flintstone Park renamed because they have important memories of it.

Crider said that the city got special permission from Hanna Barbera, the creators of the Flintstone cartoon show, to name Flintstone Park years ago. She also suggested that there were many other figures from the city’s past who should have parks named after them.

Councilman Richard Davis said the council was “ducking the issue” by sending the trail naming idea to the Park Board, where the same outcome is likely.

“A couple of the Parks Board members said they did not want this thing back,” Davis said. “It is very divisive. Rex was not universally liked.”

In the end, council members Morrison, Brewer, Danny Paggao and Nora O’Connell-Balda voted in favor of sending the compromise to the Parks Board for their recommendations, while LaFond, Sheilah Crider and Richard Davis voted against it.

Which means the issue will return to the council sometime next year.

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