$50K for “Public Health in Parks” gets OK from Bloomington board, after sharp scrutiny

A new program called “Public Health in Parks” got unanimous approval from Bloomington’s four-member board of park commissioners at a special meeting called for Tuesday night.

The program is a partnership between the parks department, Centerstone, Inc., IU Health Bloomington, and Monroe County’s health department. Centerstone is a nonprofit that provides mental health and substance use disorder services.

It builds on an existing arrangement between the parks department and Centerstone. The existing agreement is a jobs program—Centerstone clients work with park operations staff at landscaping and maintenance tasks. Also approved on Tuesday was an addendum to the agreement that expands the existing program.

The $50,000 in funding for Tuesday’s two agenda items was approved by Bloomington’s city council on Aug. 12  as part of a $2 million COVID-19 recovery package.

The board’s vote on the new Public Health in Parks initiative was unanimous, but came with some sharp criticism from board member Les Coyne. He sees the possibility of “mission creep” and wants the program considered in the context of the parks department’s mission. If it’s going to include social services, Coyne wants that to be implemented in the context of the parks comprehensive plan.

Coyne’s motion to approve the program included a requirement that the board of park commissioners be included in the initial evolution of the program, scheduled for December. Also a part of Coyne’s motion was a requirement that it be called an “experiment” not a “pilot”—so that “we don’t have any notion of committing to it in the future.”

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