By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer Little League (KLL) pocketed $12,000 from concession stand proceeds in 2017, money contractually mandated to be spent on park upkeep. And the Keizer City Council is on the verge of granting the organization a “get out of jail free” card.

Under the terms of a contract with the city signed in 2016, net proceeds from the Keizer Little League Park’s concession stand are supposed to be reinvested in maintenance and improvement of the park itself. In 2017, the concession stand netted $24,000 and only $12,000 went back into the park for maintenance.

Keizer Little League President Brad Arnsmeier said the remaining $12,000 offset costs of running a free T-ball program for 220 players, purchasing uniforms, equipment, insurance, and as scholarship money for athletes’ families who would otherwise struggle to pay registration costs.

Arnsmeier, who was elected KLL president last year, said he was not aware of the language in the contract until December 2017.

“Had I been aware, we never would have opened the concession stand. The contract, as it was written, was an unfair contract,” Arnsmeier said in a phone interview after a Keizer City Council meeting Monday, May 7, where the financial discrepancy was brought into the public light. Arnsmeier was unable to attend the meeting because he was out of town.

Arnsmeier contended that asking volunteers to work the concession stand for no benefit to the KLL program was akin to asking them to volunteer for the state. When pressed regarding the definition of volunteering being an act of selflessness, Arnsmeier responded, “When you’re talking about the number of hours it requires to run the concession stand, then that is a very large ask. It takes a tremendous amount of work to get those volunteers to come out and work the stand.”

To be fair, KLL leaders and volunteers have put a large amount of work into rehabilitating the facility. The organization has received two matching grants amounting to $20,000 out of the city’s general fund in recent years. Led by Clint Holland, a KLL board member and longtime Keizer volunteer, KLL leveraged that money to secure another $50,000 over four years from the Rotary Club of Keizer. Volunteer hours and in-kind donations likely amount to tens of thousands more.

However, KLL has been asked twice to submit a detailed budget to the city for review and come up short on both occasions.

When KLL requested the city council’s permission to increase field fees by $10 across the board, the budget it submitted was mostly a collection of expenses with only one source of revenue listed.

This week, KLL was requesting the city council modify the contract it operates under to allow the organization to keep half concession revenue and all tournament income from non-youth users. The budget KLL presented this time also left city councilors wanting.

“There’s a lot of different information here, but I would prefer to get a detailed profit and loss statement like MYB,” said Councilor Bruce Anderson of KLL new budget document. “This is a contract we have with them and I would like to have a better handle on things. There’s a lot of things moving around here that I’m still confused by.”

A competing youth baseball organization, known as McNary Youth Baseball (formerly KYSA), has been more forthcoming.

In the budget made available to the council Monday, there was no accounting at all of the $12,000 KLL kept from the concession stand.

“I don’t see concession costs, incoming revenue. I don’t know how many kids are playing. I look at this and it’s really hard to understand,” Councilor Amy Ryan said. “Supporting (the change you are asking for) is hard when we don’t have information that should support you.”

Holland attended the meeting and spoke as a representative of the Keizer Little League Board, but rather than defend the decision allowing KLL to pocket the money, Holland spoke for more than five minutes about the improvements that have been made at the fields.

When Ryan asked why no one read the contract, Holland responded, “We put all the extra money (into improvements) because it’s what has to be done.”

By the end of the evening, no solid answer regarding knowledge of the contract requirements was given, only that the specifics of the contract were brought to light in December 2017. Holland also sits on the Keizer Parks Advisory Board, which reviews the applicants for the Little League Park management contract and makes a recommendation for awarding it to the city council.

The council voted unanimously to have staff craft amended language to the contract allowing the managing group to keep half of concession and all tournament revenue – and keep the process moving – but seemed to be leaning toward revising the terms.

“Would it be alright with you if KLL can come back and show the equivalence of the $12,000 invested in the park?” Mayor Cathy Clark asked city councilors and representatives of MYB in attendance.

Nods were the only response.

As far as city staff’s role in the process, City Manager Chris Eppley appeared to want to wash his hands of the whole thing.

“Technically (KLL) broke the letter of the contract, and I would be concerned about that if the field was not looking good. Each group wants to see what the other is doing so they can be held accountable and the city is put in the middle,” Eppley said. “We need to find a scenario where there is a third party that operates and generates income to cover the costs of the complex and the city supporting larger projects.”

The matter is expected to return to the council during its first meeting in June.