The Richmond Register

Local News

April 10, 2013

City commission deadlocks on restoring ball field

RICHMOND — A motion by City Commissioner Laura King to restore a recently removed softball field at Irvine-McDowell Park failed for lack of a majority Tuesday when Commissioner Robert Blythe abstained from voting.

Blythe said he wanted more information before making a decision.

King and Commissioner Jim Newby voted to restore the ball field, while Mayor Jim Barnes and Commissioner Donna Baird voted to continue conversion of the property at the corner of Lancaster Road and Crabbe Street to an area of grass, shrubs and trees.

She believed the city had acted improperly in removing the field that had been used for many years by the girls softball league, King said. In addition, she said the city already had a shortage of ball fields even before the field was removed.

King said she had called the state attorney general’s office to ask whether one commissioner had the authority to order a change in a city facility that she believed had cost $50,000 to $75,000.

The attorney general’s office told her to ask the city attorney to look into the issue, she said, and Barnes said City Attorney Garrett Fowles would review it.

The mayor said the city began removing the field last year when the commissioners then in office informally agreed to the conversion.

Since becoming mayor, Barnes said, he had not taken action without first consulting the commission.

Commissioner Donna Baird said the commissioners last year had been shown a diagram of how the property would look after the conversions, but Blythe said he could not recall the issue being discussed.

Barnes said the work so far had not cost nearly as much as King suggested because it had been done by city employees using the city’s equipment. However, restoring the field, including reconstruction of team dugouts would be more costly than taking them down, he said.

King said the city should restore the field and worry later about the cost.

She and Barnes also disagreed on whether the field was needed.

The mayor said he had consulted the softball league president and was told it could manage without the field by rearranging its schedule. The softball league would prefer to play its games at Lake Reba Park where all boys’ baseball games are played, Barnes said. Many families have both boys and girls who play youth sports and having them play at separate parks is inconvenient, he said. In some cases, a family must choose which child may play.

“If girls’ softball doesn’t want the field, Little League would love to have it,” King said.

With conflicting views being presented, Blythe said he wanted to hear from league officials before making a decision. He also was against “haphazardly” adding anything to Lake Reba Park. Blythe and Newby both said they would like to hear from Dan McBride, who chairs the city’s parks and recreation advisory board.

As the board met a week earlier, McBride noted that changes were being made daily at Irvine-McDowell Park without the board being informed or consulted.

King also criticized the city’s maintenance of ball fields, which she said are still rutted.

A parent had called her, King said, because a ground ball had hit a rut and popped up chipping a child’s tooth.

The fields were a health hazard, she said, and for the commission to insist on seeing a “dog and pony” before making a decision was unacceptable, King said.

Barnes said no one had ever suggested to him that the city’s ball fields were unsafe.

City Manager Jimmy Howard said the city was no longer driving a pickup truck on the fields for maintenance, and the ruts were the result of poor drainage. Recent wet weather had prevented maintenance crews from working on the fields to remove the ruts, he said.

At its March 26 meeting, the commission postponed a vote on changing the title of Erin Moore, assistant director of the parks and recreation.

She met with the commissioners during an executive session prior to the regular meeting.

Unless any of the commissioners objected, Howard said he would prepare an order for the April 23 meeting changing Moore’s title to director of recreation management-parks.

Park maintenance had been put into a separate department in March 2011, Howard said, and Joe Bentley, who heads it, would be given the title of building and grounds maintenance-parks, the city manager said.

Kevin Gorman, who last headed the unified department, retired late in 2012. Although Moore was the top-ranking employee in the parks department she was still known as assistant director.

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