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March 27. 2013 11:28PM

Bedford dog park supporters cry foul

BEDFORD - The town council Wednesday night took no action on moving forward with a proposed dog park despite lengthy debate over who was to blame for the wording of a warrant article on the park that some claim was made intentionally confusing to voters.

Instead, councilors agreed to let volunteers willing to self-insure themselves against liability come forward and take responsibility for the park, which includes paying to build the facility and maintain it after it's built.

But the president of the Friends of Bedford Canine Corner (FBCC) doesn't believe such volunteers will come forward, and he blames some members of the town council for intentionally trying to torpedo the plan.

"We understand that a small group of councilors met in a non-public meeting to write their own wording for the questions in the dog park ballot article," Fred Hurwitz told the council. "This was without the knowledge or involvement of the FBCC. Personally, given the years of work those of us on the FBCC board have put into this initiative, I find it a surprising lapse that our feedback was not requested."

Councilor Bill Dermody, however, took offense at Hurwitz's allegation, saying no such effort was made to sink the plan. "I'm rather perplexed at what was described here," Dermody said. "There were no three councilors who wrote in a closed-door meeting."

Dermody said fellow councilor Jim Scanlon, who is in favor of the dog park and at one time sat on the FBCC board, "participated in the full discussion and the vote on the wording." Dermody added that, "Jim agreed with it and said it wasn't necessarily what he would write, but he was comfortable with it."

In earlier comments Scanlon had supported Hurwitz's contention that the wording of the warrant article was exclusively the product of members of the council opposed to a dog park.

Last night, Scanlon chastised the council for what he described as a poor attitude toward the dog park idea. "We had a poor attitude about the dog park; we began looking more at obstacles than objectives," Scanlon said. "I don't think holding people's feet to the fire is a sign of a cooperative attitude toward volunteers. This dog park is attainable, and it is attainable without controversy. I believe we can get there."

Hurwitz is not so certain. Despite a promise from the FBCC that they would raise the money to build and maintain the park, no one on the FBCC board has indicated that they would be willing to assume liability for the facility through self-insurance.

Hurwitz told councilors that the second part of the ballot question dealing with the dog park was "fatally flawed from its conception." Hurwitz added that Question 2 "confusingly mixed issues of maintenance cost and a leasing arrangement." As a result, he said, people were clearly confused. "The town council has known for over a year, ever since the former chairman (Dermody) first brought up the topic, that the FBCC would never sign a lease," Hurwitz said. "No group has ever come forward to sign a lease and no one knows of a reason to expect that anyone will."

Town Councilor Normand Longval sided with Hurwitz and Scanlon. "There was no input on that ballot from councilors in support of the dog park and that troubles me," Longval said. "It sounds to me that this was shoved in front of us."

Town Council Chairman Chris Bandazian disputed that charge. "The wording was available before the meeting and nobody was taken by surprise," he said.

The vice chairman of the council, Bill Jean, said he would support a dog park "as long as it comes with no taxpayer expense."

hmetz@unionleader.com


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