By Michael Sudhalter
Paul Carr, a lifelong Heights resident and civic leader, will end his longtime association with the Houston Heights Association next month after a disagreement with HHA leadership over the wooden train he built last month in Donovan Park.
The 74-year-old Carr, a former HHA president and the organization’s 1979 Citizen of the Year, was employed by the organization as its parks manager. The independent contract position paid $1,100 per month for Carr to take care of Donovan and Marmion parks.
Last month, Carr spent $5,000 of his own money to build a wooden train at Donovan Park for the children to enjoy.
HHA vice president of finance and operations Bill Baldwin said Carr was dismissed from his contract position because he didn’t ask permission to build the train.
“The train is a beautiful gift to the neighborhood and the Heights Association,” Baldwin said. “If he wants to remove the train, we’ll let him remove it. If he removes it, it’ll be because he wants to remove the train.”
Still, the board approved the donation of the train, accepted its maintenance responsibilities and decided to send an official letter of appreciation to Carr during its monthly meeting on Monday night.
“We appreciate the train, and everybody loves it,” HHA president Matt Bedingfield said.
Baldwin said there are insurance and safety issues regarding the train, which Carr disputes. Baldwin’s brother, John, will assume the park manager duties.
“We’ll maintain it in a way that’s compliant with our insurance policy and other structures in the park,” Baldwin said.
Bedingfield said the HHA has received clearance from its insurance company to allow the children to play on the train as the insurance issues are worked out; he said some of the issues are from the insurance company, while others are the board’s safety concerns regarding the train.
But both sides seem to agree that the train will remain in Donovan Park.
Carr said “there’s a 90 percent chance” the train will stay put because he wants all of the children in the Heights to enjoy it. He said he could move it to a church or daycare playground, but then only a few children will get the chance to enjoy it.
“For two years, they’ve been trying to get a campaign for me to voluntarily quit,” Carr said. “I built the train for the Heights kids, not the Heights Association.”
Carr said he and his wife, Mary, plan on attending an Volunteer Appreciation Dinner on Feb. 23, and after that, they won’t have anything to do with the association that he was a founding member of, in 1974.
Carr said he kept the parks clean during his tenure as parks manager and that his dismissal has had an adverse effect on the parks already, stating that the train now has graffiti on it.
“If this happened two weeks ago, I’d be down there right now cleaning the graffiti off,” Carr said. “I’m the old Heights Association, and I clash with the new Heights Association. It wasn’t a total surprise. I’ve been real diligent in doing my job and keeping the park in good condition. They say because I didn’t ask permission, they have fired me.”