A 74-year-old retired firefighter has become an unlikely folk hero in the Heights . . . all thanks to a donation of playground equipment that led to his dismissal as parks manager for the Houston Heights Association.
Paul Carr — a founding member of the HHA, as well as a former president and the organization’s 1979 Citizen of the Year — cherished his part-time job as the caretaker for Donovan and Marmion Parks, two popular green spaces owned and maintained by the HHA.
In December, the longtime Heights resident installed a 40-foot wooden train set he hand-crafted himself for the children at Donovan Park. But as parents and kids celebrated the kindly deed, HHA promptly fired Carr for not getting official approval from board members.
Board members fear the wooden play equipment will cause splinters.
HHA vice president Bill Baldwin — who owns Boulevard Realty and has a brother who serves as the association's property management chair — points to insurance issues regarding the train while other board members fear the wooden play equipment will cause splinters.
Yet, in spite of these claims, the HHA voted to accept the donation and even sent the retiree an official letter of appreciation. Heights-area newspaper The Leader first brought this neighborhood scandal to light. Now it's growing into a publicity nightmare for the Heights Association.
Heights Association Drama
“For two years, they’ve been trying to get a campaign for me to voluntarily quit,” Carr explained after his firing. “I’m the old Heights Association, and I clash with the new Heights Association. It wasn’t a total surprise."
Signs of tension between Carr and the board were apparent well before the "Traingate" debacle exploded. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle immediately following his donation, Carr explained that he spent months building the train set in secret.
"For two years, they’ve been trying to get a campaign for me to voluntarily quit."
"There are reasons it needed to be done that way," he cryptically explains. "To have sold them on building something out of wood and putting it in the park here would have been a little difficult, probably. But everybody likes it now."
The HHA posted a response on it website, calling the negative publicity "one sided and derogatory." On its Facebook page, the organization comments that Carr's termination "goes much further than just the train."
In the February HAA newsletter, association president Matt Bedingfield cites Carr's longstanding "disrespect" for board decisions as well as "several attempts to restrict access to Donovan Park." Though Bedingfield was unable to be reached for comment about Carr's past behavior, he makes a concerted effort to explain that the association hopes to "engage the kids who play in Donovan Park, regardless of where they may live."
The association invites all those concerned about Carr's firing to attend the next HAA board meeting on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Heights Fire Station (107 W. 12th at Yale).