By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Earlier this year, the contract to maintain and operate Keizer Little League Park became a source of contention, again.

Next week, a city-sanctioned task force will begin assessing the state of affairs at the park and working to determine if there is a better way to do business moving forward. The task force meets for, the first time, Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 6 p.m. in the Keizer Civic Center. Public testimony is welcomed during the meeting.

Under the current agreement with Keizer Little League (KLL), the organization maintains the fields and schedules field slots for its own use and others. In addition, KLL has invested heavily in improving the park after it fell into disrepair through a combination of private fundraising and in-kind donations.

The eight-person group includes Mayor Cathy Clark, City Councilor Marlene Parsons, City Councilor-elect Dan Kohler, James Hutches representing the Keizer Chamber of Commerce and two representatives each from Keizer Little League (KLL) and McNary Youth Baseball, the organization formerly known as Keizer Youth Sports Association (KYSA).

“It is important for us to value and to do some long-range planning on how that complex will be managed going forward,” said Clark in August. “Ultimately, the objective is [creating a] framework for how the volunteer organizations that run and use the park can best be supported by the city and community for long-term success. Success, in my mind, is the park is safe, consistently maintained, improved through planned projects, and a welcoming place for people to play for years to come,”

The agenda for the first meeting includes looking into: sustainable methods for overseeing operations like the park, short-term goals and priorities for improvements and planning for future uses and opportunities such as tournaments.

Keizer Little League Park is owned by the city but, to date, youth sports organizations operate and manage the facility under a contract with the city.

While the investment by Keizer Little League has never been called into question, the organization came under suspicion earlier this year when it was revealed KLL was withholding more than $15,000 in slot fees it owed the park complex while requesting that the city council retroactively revise the conditions of the management contract to allow the managing group to keep half of the proceeds from the park’s concession stand.

In the end, the gambit paid off. The city council allowed KLL to keep roughly $13,500 in concession stand sales in exchange for paying the slot fees.

The history of KLL Park is storied, but there have been several bumps in the road dating back a decade. A small army of community volunteers linked arms and brought the park into existence almost four decades ago, but a schism in the youth sports leagues in 2008 has made management of the facility a contentious issue. Until that point, the KLL organization had managed the park.

The schism birthed KYSA (now known as McNary Youth Baseball) while Keizer Little League continued to operate on a parallel track. KYSA was then given the contract to manage the facility, but by the end of its tenure, in 2014, the park had fallen into serious disrepair. After the city balked at providing funding to restore the park, KLL was again given the contract. KYSA ended its tenure as park managers and members of its leadership took with them several pieces of equipment they maintained belonged to them – including some items that predated their contract for management.

KLL’s latest tenure as manager has seen the park largely restored through grants and private donations, but the organization was asked three times in the past 18 months for a detailed budget that was only produced with the assistance of city staff.