Under pressure from a group led by Tidewater Trader Publisher Carla Johnson, the town council has delayed a vote on the recommendations of the Chestertown Recreation Commission to restore the Ajax Basketball Court to a court with two baskets.

The CRC’s plan is part of a larger plan for the Gilchrest Rail Trail that includes a playground at Wilmer Park.

The original court had two baskets but was downsized to only one when some downtown business owners and residents in 2011 pressured then Mayor Margo Bailey to remove one of the baskets — in a clear attempt to make the court unattractive to players, mostly Black, who for decades converged on Ajax for competitive play on the full court.

Years of development and investment in downtown’s south side somehow became incompatible with maintaining the full court and justified further gentrification that had been in the works for decades.

The maneuver worked and competitive play came to an end at Ajax.

Ajax had a storied history in the Black community — going back to the 1950s — and an effort began last year by the recreation commission to revitalize the court in recognition of just one part of the town’s Black history.

Johnson’s group has found sympathy with Chestertown Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy, who has worked to undermine the commission’s plan and disparaged their recommendations — after remaining silent during months of planning.

This is a slap in the face to the CRC because it marginalizes months of planning and consideration. The CRC did their job as a volunteer commission and submitted a plan to the council for a vote.

The members of the town council need to go on record in support or opposition to the CRC’s recommendation and explain their vote. If the measure is voted down then the CRC can get busy with an alternative plan.

But feeling pressure, the council has delayed a vote and sent the proposal for Ajax back to the CRC for a do-over — ignoring the six months of planning and study by the CRC. Marginalizing the CRC this way should give any citizens pause when considering participation on town committees or commissions.

This appears to be an attempt to kill the CRC’s plan for two baskets.

The council also needs to rein in de Mooy from working against the town-appointed commission and taking sides with one group of citizens. This is unprofessional and unethical behavior.

It is certainly appropriate for de Mooy to offer his opinion when asked by the council or the commissions he staffs. It is not appropriate for him to advocate for citizens who oppose the CRC’s vision for Ajax.

De Mooy is now arguing that restoring the court to two baskets violates the town’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan without any clear explanation as to why. He parrots an argument raised by Johnson. De Mooy is not an attorney and the town should rely on the town’s paid attorney to determine whether there is in fact a violation of the comprehensive plan.

The Kent Pilot

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