WESLEY TWP (ECWd) -
During last night's Wesley Township Board of Trustees meeting, an individual lodged a complaint that Township Trustee Kathy Kennedy had illegally entered her tent while she was away, and left a note saying they owed for camping at the park. See video below.
This is a hot point of contention between residents and township officials in Wesley Township.
On one hand, some residents (and us) believe the Township Code mandates that township parks be free for the public to use.
See Section 120-5(a) of the Township Code:
(a) A township, acting through the township board, may acquire lands (not exceeding for any one park 25 acres in extent, unless received as a gift) to be set apart and forever held and maintained and improved as public parks for the free use of the public.
See also Section 125-5(a) of the Township Code, which authorizes park bonds under the same conditions:
(a) For the purpose of promoting the health and welfare of its citizens, a township may issue bonds for the purpose of procuring and improving lands to be set apart and forever held as one or more public parks to be kept and maintained for the free use of the public.
That is twice, where the legislature had affirmed in writing that township parks shall be free for the public to use, even if such township park is improved, maintained, and has bonds sold for such improvements.
If a township decides to provide a golf course in its park, the legislature mandates fees to be collected from those using the golf course. No other provision in the township code, when talking about a township park, provides any authorization to collect fees for its use.
On the other hand, the Township believes that Section 85-10(j) of the Township Code provides them authorization to charge fees for camping, reserving the pavilion, etc., at the township park:
(j) A township may establish reasonable fees for recreation and instructional programs sponsored by the township.
We would point out that first, when reading a statute, the section specific to a township park takes precedence over the more general section contained within the township corporate powers: "In the words of Justice Day: "It is a well-settled principle of construction that specific terms covering the given subject-matter will prevail over general language of the same or another statue which might otherwise be controlling, "Kepner v. United States (1904) *1078", and second, that the township does not and never has sponsored any recreation and instructional programs.
In short, a township has the general powers to charge fees for recreation and instructional programs sponsored by the township, however, it may not charge fees for the use of the township park. The key words being "programs" and "sponsored" which means that there is some level of township supervision and some type of rules for participation in these sponsored programs. Wesley Township has neither.
This will remain a hot topic until a court, or the AG's Opinions Bureau, weighs in on the statutory language and makes a determination of the meanings of both Sections 120-5(a) and 85-10(j) in the Township Code.