More than a year of talk about the future of Keizer Little League Park culminated at a meeting of the Keizer City Council Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Keizer City councilors voted unanimously to outsource the operations, management and maintenance of the park through a long-term lease during the meeting. The decision deviated from a recommendation by a task force that investigated possible options in one crucial way. The task force wanted there to be a “dead man’s switch” that kicked in if no suitable operator to take over the park was found and, instead, put the park operations under the purview of the city. The council’s motion that met with unanimous approval had no such provision.
“Personally, I am in favor of (city management), but I know it’s not feasible from a financial standpoint,” said Councilor Kim Freeman. “I also think it has to turn into a facility beyond baseball and softball.”
Councilor Marlene Parsons, who served on the task force, said her role as a city official responsible for spending tax dollars was taking precedence over her role as a mother and grandmother as she cast her vote.
Councilor Dan Kohler, another member of the council who pulled double duty on the task force, said it was a difficult decision and one that made him nervous.
“All of the people who have managed the park have really good intentions, but I don’t see sustainability. I don’t know what to do other than have the city take it over, but I don’t know how to do that,” Kohler said.
Testimony from residents with an interest in the issue was mixed at best.
Rob Tavares, vice president of McNary Youth Baseball, read a scathing statement regarding the recommendation of the task force to seek a third party to run the park operations.
“It’s purpose and mission is still incomplete. Neither program has been able to operate the complex to its full potential,” Tavares said. “It boils down to convenience. The city does not want to be inconvenienced and instead placed the burden on the shoulders of men and women who have already had their hands full.”
Tavares said the City of Salem experienced complications when it sought to outsource operations at the Wallace Marine Park softball fields but did not elaborate on what those were.
A longtime volunteer at the park and, frequently, the concessions manager Clint Holland said an estimate of how much it would cost the city to take over the operations was low by at least six figures, but said the low fees charged to use fields is at the heart of the problem.
“We can’t even cover the normal wear and tear with the fees that we charge,” Holland said. KLL Park’s slot fees are typically some of the cheapest along Interstate 5.
Matt Lawyer, a representative of the Keizer Parks Advisory Board who sat on the task force, reluctantly offered his support for seeking an long-term lease. Lawyer voted against the option as a member of the task force.
“I support the RFP process, but we have to maintain the legacy of volunteers that made the complex what it is today,” Lawyer said. “We had good conversation, but the recommendation is lacking.”
Just prior to the casting of votes, Mayor Cathy Clark tried to reassure the sizable audience in attendance that the city would take that legacy into consideration.
“You built programs to benefit our youth and its the reason we are here saying how do we honor this work for the next generation and all future generations,” Clark said.
The next step in the process is for city officials to determine precisely what it wants out of a third-party contractor and what benchmarks can be established to make certain it meets the needs of the city. Potential contractors will then be asked to submit proposals detailing how they plan to meet the desires of the city.