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5:47 PM Mon, Nov. 19th

Park bench controversy: Prescott Council doesn't take accusations sitting down

PRESCOTT - A local woman's claim that the City of Prescott mishandled the recent furor over a decorative bench at Granite Creek Park elicited strong reactions from two City Council members this week.

Rachel Young, who said she was not involved in the construction of the bench, maintained that bench creator Kristin Anthony was treated unfairly by the city.

"I keep hearing that we're a cowboy town," Young said, noting that she defines that as "being a gentleman."

But, she said, "I don't think (Anthony) was treated with respect."

Young added that she feels Anthony was villainized in the media - "which is silly," she said, "because she's a 20-year-old woman; she's almost a teenager."

While City Council members have denied any involvement with the city's Oct. 25 removal of the bench from its location around a tree in Granite Creek Park, Young's comments implied that the action stemmed from officials' dislike of the symbols on the bench.

"The issues around the bench were (about) content," she said, disputing the city's claim that the bench's functionality, safety and maintenance were at the heart of the decision to remove it.

Mayor Marlin Kuykendall responded by reiterating the city's stand that the removal of the bench was a city staff decision, and not a council directive.

"I've said several times, and I'll continue - this council, as a body, had absolutely no involvement with the bench, and you can take that to the bank," Kuykendall told Young.

Councilman John Hanna agreed. "We keep getting accused of taking down the bench," he said. "We had nothing to do with taking down the bench."

Even though Young referred to Hanna's "personal investment" in the matter, which she said was displayed by his "drive-bys" on the morning of the bench removal, Hanna said he learned about the city's action at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 25, after Councilman Steve Blair called to alert him about it. At that point, Hanna said, he drove by the bench location.

(City parks and recreation staff reportedly removed the bench at about 4 a.m. that day).

Although Hanna allowed that he stated publicly that Anthony did not follow the proper guidelines for the construction of the bench, he said he was not involved in the decision about its removal.

Kuykendall termed the bench incident a "learning process," while new City Councilman Chris Kuknyo said Anthony had succeeded in starting a dialogue on how to improve communication.

Afterward, Kuknyo, who took office in late November, said he felt that even though the bench was gone, "the thing that was created was a better dialogue than before."

Anthony built the bench this past summer as a part of her senior project at Prescott College. She had help from a number of community members who provided mosaics and symbols for the bench, including some with religious significance.

The city shut down work on the bench in late September after receiving complaints about the design.

Anthony was unavailable for comment this week.