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City Council debates Thompson Park hours, park rules

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City council members could not come to a consensus Tuesday night on what hours Thompson Park should be open.

After more than 90 minutes, the Watertown City Council did not definitively decide what hours park-goers should be able to use the historic park.

Instead, council members discussed having the park itself be closed from midnight to 5 a.m. but leaving the roads that go through it open for traffic. They also discussed closing the pavilion, restrooms and other facilities at 9 p.m. or within an hour after sunset.

But they agreed to have further discussions about the hours while city officials put together a list of rules and the type of signs that should be used to display them.

They also concurred that city staff should come up with a plan to improve lighting at Thompson Park to make it safer.

Council members were divided on whether allowing people in the park after dark could cause hooligans to gather there and create trouble. And Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham expressed concern that “jumbo signs” will end up being put up in the parks listing an array of rules.

During the debate, Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said people should be allowed to take a walk in the park before they go to work or to see the sunrise.

“I don’t think anyone should be up there hanging around at two in the morning,” said Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns.

She also noted that the issue gets complicated because Watertown Golf Club members and employees are allowed to drive in the park during off-hours. The privately-owned golf course is in the park, as is the New York State Zoo.

Three years ago, council members started talking about implementing rules for parks and playgrounds but they never acted on a proposed ordinance. At that time, they also could not agree on the hours that Thompson Park should be open.

The matter surfaced after a city court judge dismissed a driving while intoxicated case against a Carthage man who was entering the park from Franklin Street about midnight on Nov. 30 of last year, despite signs indicating the park was closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Police later determined that James J. Cheal, 45, of 3614 Roberts Road, Carthage, had a 0.20 percent blood alcohol content.

But part-time City Judge Catherine J. Palermo dismissed the case, saying the park signs were not clear enough about the park’s hours of operation.

In advising what council members should do about park hours, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said park-goers have known for years not to drive through Thompson Park.

“One case in City Court should not put what we’ve done for 20 years on its ears,” he said.

On Tuesday night, council members instructed city staff to come back with a proposed ordinance that spells out the hours for all city-owned parks and playgrounds, and a uniform series of rules. The rules would include such things as prohibiting or limiting tobacco product use; only allowing alcohol by a permit; allowing where bicycles, kayaks and canoes can be used and dogs can be taken, and prohibiting fires and litter.

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