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Keizer’s most spoiled child

There will be many excuses concocted and deployed for the Keizer City Council’s actions this week in letting Keizer Little League (KLL) off the hook for more than $13,000 it owes the complex at Keizer Little League Park. Keizer residents should be skeptical of them.

In May, it became public knowledge that KLL withheld more than $12,000 it owed the complex from concession sales. On Monday, the public learned that the city manager knew KLL had been withholding the payment for at least the five previous months in hopes of having its contract for managing the park retroactively adjusted to permit keeping those revenues.

Attendees at the city council meeting Monday, July 16, also learned that the concession money wasn’t the only money KLL had been withholding from the park complex. KLL owed more than $15,000 in tournament revenue and slot fees for field usage by KLL teams.

In total, KLL owed the complex more than $28,000 from the 2017 season. In response, the city council wiped out the amount due from the concession stand in exchange for recouping the slightly higher slot fees and a tepid caution against letting a similar situation arise in the future. One councilor even offered to let them off scot-free. Fortunately, slightly-more-sensible minds prevailed.

In short, KLL blackmailed the complex (that the city owns) for the forgiveness of one debt to pay back another debt to the same entity. City leaders allowed it to happen. This should not sit well with anyone in Keizer.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that Keizer residents got nothing else out of its agreement with the organization; KLL families and board members have gone to great lengths to care for and improve the facilities in recent years. But the organization also had a contract with the city to ensure money generated at the park was reinvested in the park. Whether the group violated that contract through ignorance or oversight is beside the point. Knowing they had a contract with the city of Keizer, and thereby all of its residents, should have prompted every single member of the KLL board of directors to read and make certain they were following the agreement to the letter.

These actions by KLL and city council are galling, but city councilors doubled down on it by granting KLL’s wish to retroactively amend the facility management contract to allow the managing organization to keep half of the concession revenue and all tournament revenue going forward.

At the very least, the council should have kept the contract – as it was originally written – in place until KLL leaders proved that they could be trusted to act in good faith. Instead, the organization will suffer no true consequence for what amounts to a successful blackmail scheme. It’s hard to fathom any other situation in the public realm when such tactics would be countenanced. At a time when faith in government is diminished at best, decisions such as this serve to fan the flames of discontent. For Keizer, specifically, it will make residents more skeptical of fees implemented in 2017 to cover the costs of police and public safety.

Moreover, last week, a member of the KLL board told members of the Keizer Parks Advisory Board last week that he plans to request another matching grant from the city to fund more improvements at KLL Park. The editorial board of this paper strongly suggests members of the parks board think long and hard about whether to approve it.

The parks board has approved $20,000 in matching funds for improvements – that came out of the city’s general fund – during the past three years. Adding to that sum will only embolden the bad actors of the KLL board who are trading on nostalgia as much as actual interest in the services they offer. It should not be the role of the volunteer parks board members to dole out repercussions when the city’s elected and paid officials fail to do their job, but the Parks Advisory Board is now the only municipal group left with an opportunity to send a message that KLL’s actions are not acceptable.

The old adage of sparing the rod and spoiling the child isn’t one that this paper’s editors are fond of, but the success of KLL’s brattish and brutish ways are prompting us to reconsider that stance.

—Editorial Board