Fircrest’s city manager has sent a written warning to City Councilman Matthew Jolibois, telling him he broke the law by repeatedly cutting vegetation in a city park and informing Jolibois he would be fined or banned from the park if he keeps it up.
“Making changes to the park without any approval and authorization is a violation of the (Fircrest Municipal Code) and a misdemeanor,” according to the Aug. 23 letter by City Manager Rick Rosenbladt. “If other people decided to follow your example and redesign our parks, we would have a potentially chaotic situation.”
Jolibois said he’s not redesigning anything; he said he only tried to improve visibility and revive two rhododendron gardens in Masko Park.
Since fall 2011, Jolibois estimates he’s spent roughly 1,500 hours removing salal, weeds and overgrown vines from the park on Orchard Street.
Some of his supporters say recent city actions could harm the tradition of neighborhood park cleanup in the city of 6,500.
“It’s killing our community spirit,” former City Council member Blake Surina said.
“It’s very frustrating,” Jolibois said this week. “Somebody took the fun out of Fircrest.”
Jolibois is a lifelong Fircrest resident and 12-year City Council member who’s running for re-election this fall.
He was upset recently when he saw a new sign in Masko Park alerting visitors that any disturbance of the park or its fixtures could result in a $1,000 fine or a 90-day suspension of park privileges.
After the sign went up Aug. 19, he called the city manager’s office. He found out that an anonymous caller had complained about vegetation being cut down in the park, prompting the sign to go up.
Jolibois informed staff that he would continue to water the rhododendrons.
“I’m not going to sit there and watch the rhodies die off,” he told The News Tribune. Jolibois later received the letter from Rosenbladt, which cited the city ordinance that aims to prevent citizens from arbitrarily altering parks.
Rosenbladt said in the letter that Jolibois had told staff he wouldn’t stop what he was doing, “so you force the city to take more drastic action.”
Jolibois told a reporter he’s not altering the park. “I’m just taking what’s there and cleaning it up.”
He also said the city never initiates maintenance at Masko Park — a fact Rosenbladt doesn’t dispute. He said Masko Park is undeveloped and not intended for maintenance.
A handful of neighbors rallied to Jolibois’ defense this week. A few contacted The News Tribune.
Derek Van Dyke, who lives across the street from the park, said overgrowth obstructs the view through the park, giving potential criminals a place to hide. He said his house and carport were broken into four times in less than a year.
“They keep using the word ‘natural park,’” Van Dyke said. “Natural doesn’t mean you abandon the park.”
Rosenbladt said Fircrest is working on a new Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, and he invited Jolibois to submit his ideas for Masko Park as part of that process.