Soccer gear dispute in court as league sues East Ridge

Soccer gear dispute in court as league sues East Ridge

February 17th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

Chris Clem

Photo by Jessica Lowry

A local judge has been forced into the role of referee between the East Ridge Soccer Association and East Ridge as she decides which entity owns $100,000 worth of sports equipment now hanging in limbo.

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton is set to hold a hearing Tuesday on the lawsuit filed against East Ridge this week by the independent soccer association -- which purchased the equipment over the decades it operated dozens of soccer leagues, including the city's leagues -- at city-owned Camp Jordan.

Tensions among league leaders and soccer families flared as the East Ridge City Council abruptly voted in January to form its own Parks and Recreation Department to oversee all sports leagues, including ERSA.

Though the city initially sought to work with ERSA under a new board structure, the group since has decided to move its operations to another site.

At the end of January, City Manager Tim Gobble had all of Camp Jordan's locks rekeyed after receiving "credible threats" that some disgruntled league members were planning to strip the equipment rooms. Those needing access to the facilities now must go through city officials.

League attorney Chris Clem said ERSA made no such threats, and he called the city's move "Gestapo-like."

"They demanded we turn over all our assets and bank accounts to them," Clem said. "They have a right to ask us to leave, but they don't have the right to seize our assets like that. What they're doing is ridiculous and abusive."

According to a Feb. 10 letter sent by the city to the soccer league, Gobble suggested the league's funds "be transferred with the understanding that they be used exclusively for the soccer leagues to be operated by the city on its facilities."

Gobble said his main goal is to protect property he says belongs to taxpayers.

"The equipment was bought with money generated on city property through bargain use of city resources, so technically it should belong to the city," he said.

Clem argues there was no such formal agreement, that ERSA always has paid rent with no expectation of such strings attached.

Bolton has ordered no equipment to be moved and instructed both parties to take inventory of all the equipment before she rules.