Wow! There is one thing Independence does not lack and that is PASSION! Whether it is rooting for your favorite queen candidate in the Neewollah Pageant or your child or grandchild playing summer sports or acting in the Children’s Theater, or for the Bulldogs or Pirates as they fiercely defend their turf! But how about those Lions? The Lions have stood guard proudly at the entrance gates greeting visitors and their children for decades. Never in my many years of working for the City have the Lions gotten so much attention. Which is wonderful as those Lions deserve a lot of love. They are an icon not only for the park, but for the City. The Lions served as the first City logo along with the motto “A progressive community in the heart of America” and still to this day are featured on all Independence Police Department Uniforms.
When the Lions were mistakenly painted the wrong color by volunteers due to a paint mix up last April during Love Independence Day, we decided to make lemonades out of lemons by having a contest dubbed #LionGate to determine whether the Lions would remain Neon Yellow or be repainted a more traditional color, referred to as Mellow Yellow in the contest. The park and zoo received attention nationwide on social media and the contest was covered by KOAM TV. We even had an astronaut join in on the fun, as there had been a suggestion on social media that the Neon Yellow Lions could potentially be seen from space. After putting the question to the community, the vote results were to leave the Lions Neon Yellow. My intention, and the intention of the others organizing the contest, was that they would remain Neon Yellow for a year and be repainted the originally intended Mellow Yellow by volunteers the next Love Independence Day. Since that time the Park Director has brought to my attention the condition of the Lions. When we say the Lions need a lot of love, that is an understatement. Portions of the aging concrete are turning to powder, and while the paint holds those ferocious beasts together for now, it is only a temporary fix. The estimated cost to replace all the Lions is currently $18,000 ($3,000 each for six Lions) which, with all the needs of the park and zoo, is currently not budgeted. Once funding is secured, it takes approximately one year to have the Lions cast and delivered after they are ordered.
Recently a group of passionate citizens who believe the Neon Yellow is not fitting for the Park and Zoo entrance wrote letters to the editor in the local paper, took to social media and addressed the Park Board with their concerns. On September 12, 2022, the Park Board heard from this group at its regular meeting. The eight members present passed a motion unanimously to keep the current Neon Yellow color until the Lions were replaced, at which point they would be painted a more traditional (Mellow Yellow) color. On September 15, 2022, the Chairman of the Park Board called a Special Meeting and asked the members to reconsider allowing the concerned parties to repaint the four entrance lions. Six members were in favor, two were not, and one member was absent. Since the Park Board is an advisory board and does not direct staff, it falls upon me to make the final decision. Now while I could approach this as a Cowardly Lion and pass the buck to the City Commission, I don’t believe that would be fair to all parties involved, including the volunteers who painted the Lions, the citizens who voted to keep the Lions Neon Yellow, the citizens who want them repainted a more traditional color, the park staff, and our City Commissioners, whose role is to adopt a budget and set policies and generally does not include selecting paint colors.
I realize the citizens who are leading this effort are doing so because of their great love for the iconic Lions that many of us have also shared for many years. I discussed this with one of their representatives and have proposed that park staff will provide the paint and supplies and they may volunteer to repaint the lions a more traditional color. While I would have preferred to wait until Love Independence Day in April 2023 in respect of the volunteers that last painted the lions and the over a thousand people who voted to keep them Neon Yellow, I also feel it is important to respect the advice of the Park Board. The Park Board members are volunteers who serve as advisors on matters regarding the parks and zoo. I appreciate them and appreciate their service to the community. I also appreciate everyone’s passion about the Lions. It is time to turn this uproar into a mild growl and move on down the track to the next project, such as the restoration of the 1050 Locomotive so that it too can be enjoyed by many generations for years to come.
For more on that project and how to donate visit this link: https://forpaz-inc.square.site/product/restore-santa-fe-1050-train-fund/16?cp=true&sa=true&sbp=false&q=false
Kelly Passauer, City Manager