By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Despite another off-field controversy, things are moving forward towards another season of baseball and softball at Keizer Little League Park.
Both city manager Chris Eppley and Bill Lawyer, Public Works director, confirmed a new mower was ordered this week.
The mower and other field maintenance equipment is being ordered since Keizer Youth Sports Association (KYSA), for the first time since 2008, is not managing the city-owned park in 2014. Keizer Little League (KLL) is managing the park this year, with two one-year options to follow.
During last week’s Keizer City Council meeting, it was noted KYSA officials had removed equipment used to get the fields at the complex ready for play.
That greatly angered councilor Jim Taylor, who went on a tirade following the meeting and called the removal of the equipment an “unconscionable” action, among other things.
The removal led to two questions, with the simpler one being did KYSA have the authority to remove the items. The more complex question is if the items should have been removed.
Officials with KYSA, KLL and the city all agree KYSA owns the equipment in question.
KLL was started in 1972 and continued as one group until 2008, when a split took place. A majority of the 2007 KLL board members kept the same registration numbers and the organization going. However, since programs being offered were no longer Little League programs, a name change was required. Thus, the KYSA name.
“It was just a name change,” said KYSA president Kurt Barker, the only board member from the former KLL who is still on the KYSA board. “We just started our own KYSA brand.”
Barker estimated 80 percent of the 2007 KLL board members made up the 2008 KYSA board.
A smaller part of the 2007 KLL board wanted to keep Little League going in Keizer, so a new Keizer Little League was formed.
“The Keizer Little League board in 2007 didn’t want to be affiliated with Little League anymore,” said Gary Hays, who was the new KLL’s first president. “That was contrary to the by-laws of the league. As soon as they acted contrary, they ceased to be Little League representatives. They were in control of the charter and had all the assets. They formed KYSA. Little League granted a charter to a group of us who wanted to keep Keizer Little League going. In the eyes of Little League, we formed a new board.”
Barker acknowledges the KYSA name caused – and still causes – confusion, especially since there is still a KLL.
“We wanted to be Little League of Keizer, but we couldn’t keep the Little League name,” Barker said. “We had to relinquish the name.”
Since KYSA retained all assets, the equipment at KLL Park belonged to KYSA, which managed KLL Park until the end of last October, when the management contract expired.
In the fall of 2004, Lawyer compiled a list of the city’s fixed assets at KLL Park. The list, which is still the same today, doesn’t list any field equipment.
“We never had an inventory of what was there to begin with,” Lawyer said. “I don’t know what can be removed and what cannot be removed.”
Further, “concession stand” is listed, but there is no further detail about who owns equipment inside the concession stand. That became an issue last week, as there was some question as to whether or not KYSA had the authority to remove the ice maker.
“Based on what I know, that equipment was KYSA’s property, so they removed it,” Eppley said. “I don’t know that I disagree with that decision. They had the legal right to do so. We’re not disputing the equipment they took is their equipment. The only piece of equipment our legal department thought might be a fixture is the ice maker. I disagree with that. I think that is their equipment.”
Lawyer looked out his window early this month and saw KYSA officials drive by with field equipment – the mower, tractor and gator – used at the baseball complex.
“Those items were not city equipment,” Lawyer said. “The city never put money towards the purchase of those.”
Barker confirmed KYSA officials did indeed remove their equipment from KLL Park.
“Our assets are in storage,” Barker said. “We have a financial responsibility to our members. We bought the items, spent nearly $2,000 a year to make sure they are insured and depreciated them on our taxes. How could any reasonable person think those assets don’t belong to us?”
Starting in 2013, the city budget called for city staff to provide mowing at KLL Park, in line with the type of work done at other city parks.
“KYSA wanted us to put labor into the park, so they could save funds and use those to fund the program,” Eppley said. “I understand that. Their argument was KLL Park is a city park, so we should maintain it like we do other parks. That made sense to me. We incorporated it into the park system. We were mowing the fields once a week. We took on the maintenance of buildings, like we do all other parks. They would be responsible for running the baseball program.”
That was to be the same this year, but those funds instead have been used for the purchase of a mower, which cost approximately $8,500.
“We had budgeted for a (city employee) to utilize the mower that KYSA took with them at the park in the mowing season,” Eppley said. “Instead, we will spend that money on the mower. KLL will have to provide volunteers (to do the mowing). It’s the same budget, just allocated in a different way. KLL will have to do more volunteering.”
Both KYSA and KLL submitted proposals to run KLL Park for 2014. The KLL proposal mentioned using field equipment at the park.
As mentioned last week, a committee grading the two proposals found KYSA’s to be incomplete. Barker took exception to that, as well as the overall process.
“The request for proposals was sent out in mid-October,” Barker said. “The deadline was Oct. 31 and the committee met on November 8. Normally a request for additional information would come in an e-mail, not by phone. I spent little time on our proposal, due to the short timeline. There were also new charges to the manager we were not prepared to pay.”
The larger question that’s been debated, particularly in the last week, is whether KYSA should have removed items or left them for KLL to use.
“It’s a whole different question of what they have the right to do versus the right thing to do,” Eppley said.
Hays, who is no longer affiliated with KLL, believes the intent was for items to stay at the park, regardless of who had the management contract.
“A verbal agreement was reported to the city that the equipment for maintaining the park and the concession stand would stay with the park,” Hays said. “All of that stuff was to stay with the park. My understanding is that was for long term.”
City councilor Dennis Koho, a lawyer and also president of the West Coast League baseball organization, feels equipment should stay at KLL Park.
“This is a program for kids,” Koho said. “We ought to be thinking in terms of what works best for the kids of Keizer, not today’s impact on an organization. If I was in KYSA’s position, it would be difficult to think that way. But I hope after reflection they could. I hope that equipment can be used for the benefit of Keizer youth.”
Barker, who stated he has “often offered” to join the two groups under the KYSA banner, said KYSA board members have no problem with KLL being awarded the management contract at KLL Park.
“We accept the decision of the council,” he said. “After 42 years of KYSA being the park manager, our parents, volunteers and board members need a break from being 100 percent financially responsible for maintaining and improving the park.”
So where will KYSA be holding games in 2014?
“We will be submitting a request to play on Keizer Little League Park fields,” Barker said. “We plan to use the same number as in the past.”
Barker points to the overall picture of numbers with youth baseball programs going down.
“KYSA doesn’t care which program Keizer youth play for,” he said. “We just want the total number of players to increase. Both our programs are feeder programs to McNary High School. The more kids our programs can send with baseball or softball skills to McNary, the stronger their teams will be.”