Eeyoring About Eeyore's

Eeyore's and PARD get crossways over damage deposit

All is not peaceable at Pease.

In the wake of another successful Eeyore's Birthday Party last Saturday at Pease Park on Lamar Boulevard – the 49th annual Austin celebration of the ageless, mournful donkey – party organizers, the nonprofit Friends of the Forest Foundation, are embroiled in a dispute with the city's Parks and Recrea­tion Department over their $2,000 damage deposit from the 2011 event. FFF board member Scott Sexton told the Chronicle that PARD initially issued a $49,000 bill for repairs and maintenance, then after protest, cut it to $1,717.09, effectively consuming the deposit. "The deposit is typically $2,000," said Sexton via email, "which has been always returned to Eeyore's in the past." The foundation demanded an apology from PARD along with the return of its deposit (and raised its complaint briefly at last week's City Council meeting).

In a April 23 letter to Sexton, PARD Director Sara Hensley did apologize for the "unapproved and non-finalized draft of a final report" that the FFF had received, but said that given last year's difficult drought conditions and necessary repairs to the park, PARD could not return the deposit. She acknowledged "the valuable service [the foundation's] volunteer projects bring to Pease Park," but cited the event's contract with the city stating that any appeal of the decision would have to have been made within 10 days (i.e., in May 2011). Hensley added a handwritten note to Sexton: "It is my hope that we can move forward positively and continue to work together."

That looks unlikely, at least in the short term. Friends President Les Carnes said Monday that the foundation still wants its deposit returned, that PARD's staff has behaved in an unethical and possibly illegal fashion, and that "We're probably going to have to get a lawyer [and] appeal to the city manager to get this deposit back." Carnes acknowledged that city budget cuts have hurt the agency but accused PARD of trying to make up its losses by "shaking down a nonprofit," which uses sales of birthday drinks and T-shirts to raise funds for local nonprofits. "Yeah, there's a lack of money," said Carnes. "However, now there's a lack of trust."

PARD Special Events Manager Jason Maurer described 2011 as an exceptional year for park maintenance because of the drought conditions, and defended the department's spending of the deposit. "We're just saying, 'Let's reinvest some of that,'" he said, "and restore some of the grounds and give us a fighting chance for future years." As for the $49,000 "bill," he said it was only a draft report by a park manager who, during a meeting, was estimating overall annual maintenance expenses on the park. A foundation member requested a copy, Maurer said, and "They just took a draft from a meeting ... and the draft notes upset them." He said he understands the foundation intends to appeal to the city manager and City Coun­cil, but under the contract, "They're way beyond the point to appeal."

Maurer effusively praised "wonderful work" on the park done by Friends of the Forest and Pease Park Conservancy volunteers, and added, "I'm really not trying to start a war. ... We're just looking forward to a good working relationship." He expects the 50th birthday to take place as scheduled next spring.

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Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Eeyore's Birthday, PARD, Sara Hensley, Scott Sexton, Pease Park Conservancy, Friends of the Forest Foundation

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