BERLIN – Citizens in support of renaming Berlin Falls Park in honor of a popular mailman are expected to bring the issue to the town council next week.
Last month, Berlin resident Bill Todd launched an informal petition effort to rename the park after recently retired Berlin mailman James Tingle. Now that petitions have been posted in downtown businesses for several weeks, Todd says he’s ready to share the signatures with town leaders and see if the effort can move forward.
“People are very interested,” Todd said.
Todd came up with the concept of renaming the town’s newest public space James Tingle Park as he was looking for a way to honor the mailman for the 30 years he spent walking the streets of Berlin delivering mail. The overwhelming positive response he received when he brought up the idea on a radio show prompted him to go forward with it. He says nearly all of the downtown businesses provided space for the petitions.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, however, said when contacted by The Dispatch last month that it would be “folly” to name the park after Tingle, who he said he admires, when there were numerous citizens in Berlin who contributed to the community. He said he expected naming opportunities to arise over time and pointed out those opportunities were usually tied to financial donations.
“So, if anyone has a six-figure financial gift ready to give the town for the purpose of a naming opportunity to honor James Tingle, or any number of other honorable current or past citizens of Berlin, then by all means contact me, because then and only then, will we have something to talk about,” Williams said.
Todd said this week the mayor’s suggestion that people would have to “pay to play” frustrated him and only made him more determined to pursue the cause.
“The things the mayor said, it blew my mind,” Todd said.
He agreed that there may be other individuals worthy of the recognition.
“There may be but nobody’s taking initiative,” he said.
Todd said he thought the townspeople should have some input in naming the park, whether it was after Tingle or not, and that it shouldn’t be based on money. Todd is eager to support fundraising efforts for things inside the park, like a skateboarding facility, but doesn’t believe the park’s name should be decided by “the highest bidder.”
“I’m not going to be bullied into fundraising,” he said.
Todd maintains that nearly everyone he’s spoken to in the community has supported the idea of naming the park in honor of Tingle. He plans to collect his petitions Thursday so he’ll have something tangible to show the town council Monday.
Toby Gilbert of Gilbert’s Provisions says he too believes the initiative has quite a following. He was happy to put a petition in his shop.
“We all love James and he’s been a bright part of Berlin for a long time,” he said.
Robin Tomaselli, owner of Baked Dessert Café, feels the same.
“I would support the park being named after James because he’s the epitome of what is great about this town,” she said.
Tomaselli said that while he did deliver mail, he did more than that. She said he was the type of person who would stop to help a senior citizen change a lightbulb.
“He’s not just a postal carrier,” she said.
At the same time, Tomaselli acknowledges that Berlin has plenty of residents, both past and present, who have devoted their lives to the town and deserve recognition.
“There are so many people who worked a lifetime to make Berlin what it is today,” she said.
Tomaselli says the petition in her café has been signed by numerous residents. She says that’s due in part to Tingle’s popularity as well as the fact that many people aren’t thrilled with the Berlin Falls Park moniker. She says it’s ludicrous to call the property that when it doesn’t have falls. She added that it would be even crazier to someday build falls there, as has been suggested.
“That’s even more laughable,” she said. “That money could be much better spent.”
Tomaselli praised Todd for following through on the concept of renaming the park and creating a petition.
“I applaud his effort to take something he felt was wrong and try to make a change,” she said.
Todd says he’s not formally on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting, which is set for 7 p.m., but plans to address the council during the public comment portion of the meeting. He encourages anyone who supports his cause to attend.
In December of 2015, Williams explained the concept behind the Berlin Falls Park name.
“The ponds offer an unbelievably perfect setting for all kinds of recreation and environmental opportunities, from walking trails to biking to having students come out and do environmental projects. It’s a gem and to me it’s our duty and obligation to preserve that but also it doesn’t do any good if it’s hidden from the world,” said Williams. “You have to see and touch the natural environment if you are going to have any appreciation for it. That’s what we want to do with that part of the property. It will happen and it will be a rewarding experience while environmentally responsible.”
He added, “We are now calling it — for the purposes of the label — the ‘Berlin Falls.’ Why are we calling it that? Because the initial feasibility study outlined about seven different concepts … one of those options offered creating a permanent, beautiful waterfall between those ponds. Do you realize the only time we have water in this town that’s not in pipes is when we have a very hard rain? We’re the only community in this region that does not have a natural water asset. We can have something unique to the entire Delmarva peninsula.”
In a Facebook post this week, Todd wrote, “I’d like to bring to their attention the way a lot of us feel about money going towards building a fake waterfall as opposed to the much needed bike/skate park. I hope to open a dialog with them and figure out a way to make real progress on this.”
Todd added, “Some people in the press and the Mayor himself have shocked me with their responses to this. It’s things like James Tingle park that make this town great. I think when they take a step back and analyze that they’ll figure it out. It’s not all about money. It’s about love and kindness for your brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors.”