$100,000 “Legal” Expenses Found in APR Budget—Director Refuses to Explain

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department has requested and been appropriated $100,000 for “Legal” in their Administrative budget for this biennium. When asked to explain this line item in his budget, APR Director Michael Black refused to explain the reason for these anticipated expenditures.

This line item was discovered while I was examining the expenses of APR over the previous months.  It was sourced from financial documents that are not readily available to the general public.  I have been making Public Records Requests to Finance, HR, and APR over the past few months in an effort to gain an understanding of APR’s finances.  This level of detail is never shown in the published budget documents.

This budgeted expense of $50,000 per year for the two years of this biennial budget is new.  There was no such item in the FY 2021 budget.  In fact, there was a line item in the operations budget of $150, which was revised to $350.  That budgeted money was not spent during FY21.  However, there was a $750 expenditure on April 16, 2021 with the description “Legal Advice – Charter”.  It was listed under “professional services” in the administrative budget.

This ask of $100,000 for “Legal” is unprecedented in the budget of any city department.  We have a city attorney on staff.  It is her job to provide legal counsel to the city government.  Yet, APR has decided that it needs to have $100,000 available for their specific legal needs.

By the way, $100,000 is just about what the employment of one additional park technician would cost the city.  Those are the people who do the actual physical work of keeping our parks properties in good condition.  APR often presents a lack of money as a justification for the disgraceful state of our parks, but that is simply not the case. However, that is another aspect of the story, to be explored in future articles.

So just what is this $100,000 anticipated need?  One can only assume that it is related to APR’s attempt to either place a levy upon the taxpayers for additional funds, or to break off into a special district, avoiding the minimal oversight that the city has over their operations currently.  But that’s just a reasonable assumption, so I wrote to APR Director Michael Black to find out how he explains this anticipated need for this huge legal expenses.  Below I will reproduce the email conversation verbatim.  Read it.  Then you be the judge.

My original email to Director Black, 12/12/21 4:18PM:

Director Black,

I see that there is a line item in the Parks general fund budget for BN 2021-23 labeled “Legal” (0211.  for the Parks Administration Expenses in the amount of $50,000 for each year of the biennium, $100,000 total.

I am inquiring why this item was requested and included in this biennial budget, since the “Legal” line item for FY 2021 amounted to zero for all divisions of APR, except for $150 in the operations division, revised to $350.

Why do you anticipate the need for this level of legal expense, and for what purpose is it intended?

Thank you.

Director Black’s first response, 12/12/21 4:50PM:

Mr Silver, 

This line item is for potential legal consultant fees that APRC may incur. The purpose of the occurrence of a charge to this line item is predicated on need. Any legal expenditure will be directed by administration, so there is no need for the divisions to cary their own legal line item. As a need arises, this line item balance may be used to cover the incurred expenses. 



My reply to that response, 12/12/21, 5:17PM:

Director Black,

Thank you for your response.

Your reply contradicts the occurrence of the legal line item under the operations division last year, but that misstatement is entirely beside the point, as is your definition of a budget line item.

The question remains: why do you anticipate the possible need for this level of “potential legal consultant fees” in this biennium for APR while there has been no such need in the past? 

We have a city attorney on staff.  What legal needs for APR of this magnitude do you anticipate beyond those which the city attorney could provide?

Please be specific in your answer.

Thank you.

Director Black’s second response, 12/13/21 10:30AM:

Mr. Silver,

I believe I have answered your question. Please refer to my previous response.


Michael A. Black, AICP

Director, Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission

My response to that reply, 12/13/21 12:11PM

Director Black,

In fact, all you have done is avoid my question.  That will be apparent to anyone reading this exchange.

I want to give you every opportunity to explain why you anticipate the need for these legal expenditures at the expense of the taxpayers. 

You have repeatedly claimed that your limited budget prevents the Parks department from adequately maintaining the parks properties and facilities.  The $100k that you have budgeted for legal expenses would just about cover the expenses for one additional parks technician for a year.

The taxpayers deserve to understand your prioritization of the APR budget.  I am giving you the opportunity to publicly justify the sudden inclusion of this significant and unusual sum in your budget.

Please ensure that your reply is responsive to my specific question.

Thank you.

And that was the last I heard.  You can judge for yourself.  If it takes more than a day to respond to a simple question like this, I have to assume that the Director has no reasonable, credible answer to the question, at least not an answer that would be palatable to the taxpaying public.

So, fellow taxpayers, take heed.  APR is coming for your wallet, and it appears they are planning on using your tax dollars to hire legal help to get more of your tax dollars.  Is this OK with you?  It sure isn’t OK with me.

I copied all of the above emails to the City Manager, the Mayor, the finance director, the City Council, and the Parks and Rec Commissioners.  If you are unhappy about what appears to be going on, let them know about it.  If you think it’s not OK for a public servant, an employee of the city and of the taxpayers, to avoid answering a simple question about his budget, let them know.

This is just the first of many reasons that will make it obvious that APR must never be allowed to become an autonomous district.  In fact, APR should be rolled back into the city org chart as a normal department, under the control of the Council and the City Manager.  That will require a Charter amendment, but it will be worth it.  We have to reign in this rogue department that has no concern for the current crisis in the city budget.

I have learned a lot lately by delving deeply into the documents that are not readily available to the public.  I will continue to do so. Over the next few months, the evidence of APR’s poor management of the over $7,000,000 per year that we, the taxpayers provide to that department for operations will become overwhelmingly obvious.  Stay tuned.

Dean Silver