By Bill Robinson
Twice at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting, Commissioner Laura King accused Mayor Jim Barnes of lying.
She also said the mayor “likes to discriminate against women.”
The mayor banged his gavel for order, when King called him “a disgrace to this town.”
The confrontation began after Larry Frakes, an unsuccessful 2010 city commission candidate, criticized the removal earlier this year of one of three girls softball fields from Irvine-McDowell Park at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Crabbe Street.
“Where are the girls going to play softball,” Frakes demanded to know.
Barnes said at least one new girls softball field will be created at Lake Reba Park in time for the 2014 season.
“Everybody but a few people” want all youth ball fields place at Lake Reba, the mayor said. Having boys and girls playing on fields in separate parks miles apart is inconvenient for families with both boys and girls who play ball. Some parents are forced to choose between letting a son or a daughter play ball, he has said in the past.
“We want Irvine-McDowell to be a quiet, passive park,” Barnes said.
King took exception to the mayor’s use of “we” and “the commission” when he talked about the decision to remove the Irvine-McDowell softball field and give the park a new orientation..
“None of us have agreed to do what the mayor has said,” King said. “He doesn’t speak for me or my constituents,” who she said tell her they want the Irvine-McDowell softball field restored.
“He sits right here and says, ‛We have decided,’” King said. “That’s a lie, a bold faced lie.”
Removal of a girls ball field could have been a violation of the statute known as Title IX that requires entities receiving federal funds to provide equal sports opportunities for men and women, King continued.
“Our mayor likes to discriminate against women,” she said. “I know because I’ve felt it myself.”
“It’s a disgrace to this town that we have a mayor who sits here …,” King said, but she was interrupted by the mayor who banged his gavel and told King she was out of order.
When Commissioner Donna Baird attempted to speak in the mayor’s defense, King said, “Donna, don’t try to take up for your man.”
Barnes again banged the gavel, interrupting Baird, and said the commission should move on.
Commissioner Jim Newby said leaders of the girls softball league had told him they didn’t protest removal of the softball field “because they didn’t think they had a choice.”
A league official had been scheduled to address the commission Tuesday, he said, but did not attend.
Later, King said she would submit a motion in writing calling for the Irvine-McDowell ball field to be restored. An order to that effect would be drafted for a vote at the May 28 commission meeting.
Kings motion at the April 9 commission meeting to restore the ball field failed when she and Newby voted for it, the mayor and Baird voted against it and Commission Robert Blythe abstained.
With conflicting accounts of whether the youth leagues wanted fields moved from Irvine-Dowell to Lake Reba, Blythe said he needed more information before he voted.
King said Blythe would have time to have his questions answered before May 28.
As he did, April 9, Barnes said he had never acted as mayor without at least the consent of a majority of the commission. Blythe said then he could not recall voting on the issue or giving his assent, but Baird said she had. Former commissioner Jason Morgan, in a message to the Register, said he had not given his assent to removing the field and that no vote had been taken.
However, former commissioner Richard Thomas said he had given his assent during a discussion about renovating the park’s Irvinton House.
Tuesday night, City Manager Jimmy Howard said he started plans to remove the ball field in December, when the former commission was still in office. The city’s 2008 comprehensive park plan, recommended by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, had called for ball fields to be moved from Irvine-McDowell to Lake Reba, he noted.
However, the park board was not involved in the decision to remove the field, Howard said.
“That was a mistake,” the city manager said, and the park board would be given an apology.
King and the mayor clashed again, when an ordinance to annex the property on which Madison County Ford sits passed 3-2, with King and Newby casting negative votes.
When asked by the mayor why she had voted no, King said she was opposed to involuntary annexation. The city had never involuntarily annexed property until Barnes became mayor, she said.
King said she had voted to annex another relatively small parcel of business property on Boggs Lane only because she believed the mayor when he said it was a voluntary annexation.
“But, you lied about that,” she told Barnes.
Although the mayor had not asked him, Newby said he wanted to explain his vote.
When the issue had been considered once before, an attorney for property owner Ken Ruhl arrived at the meeting after a vote had been taken. The attorney was not allowed to speak, and Newby said he wanted to hear from the property owner.
The issue was back before the commission, according to the annexation ordinance, because all requirements had not been met by a previously submitted version.
Howard said he had begun the annexation move because the Madison County Ford property was completely surround by the city. It receives city services “without paying anything to the city,” which he regards as unfair to the other businesses, including car dealers that do.
King this called on Richmond Utilities Superintendent Scott Althauser if Madison County Ford pays city utility fees. It pays the city for water and sewer services, he said.
That showed the dealership pays money to the city, King said.
However, it pays no property or net profits tax, Howard said, and its employees don’t pay the city’s occupational license fee.
Forcible annexation of the dealership cold prompt it to move out of Richmond, King said, resulting in loss of revenue to the city.
(See later editions of the Register this week for more about Tuesday’s city commission meeting.)
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.