City of East Ridge forming parks, recreation department

City of East Ridge forming parks, recreation department

January 25th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble.

A group of angry parents and coaches from East Ridge's youth sports leagues are threatening to leave the city's Camp Jordan complex after the City Council voted 4-1 to create a Parks and Recreation Department to oversee their associations.

During the special meeting Tuesday night, the council voted to budget $50,000 for a parks and recreation supervisor, who will oversee the soccer, baseball and softball leagues.

Dozens of league participants showed up to protest the ordinance, while a cadre of East Ridge residents came to support a move they believe will save taxpayer dollars.

Though the city's notice of the meeting invited the public to attend, it was held it in a conference room where only about 20 onlookers could crowd in before city officials said fire code wouldn't allow any more. The others lingered in the hall, or outside of the building.

Many league members said the city should not be at the helm of a grass-roots operation that was built by countless volunteers.

"These organizations were built on the backs of countless volunteer hours with a lot of blood, sweat and tears," said Kevin Wright, commissioner of the baseball and softball organizations. "We are only asking to be included in this decision."

City Manager Tim Gobble said the city directs about $800,000 toward the youth leagues, most of which it never gets back.

"This is about being good stewards of taxpayer money," said Councilman Jim Bethune, who voted to pass the measure along with Councilmen Larry Sewell and Darwin Branam. "There is no financial accountability over these leagues. I have gotten plenty of phone calls from East Ridge citizens who are very glad we are doing this."

Both Bethune and Sewell, whose children played in leagues at the park, insisted during the meeting that little will change about league operations.

Wright asked the council to table the decision until a study group could be formed to determine how much of the city's $800,000 figure actually is directed to the baseball, softball and soccer facilities, and how much labor is done by volunteers.

Several coaches said they do more for the complex than the city does.

"We have made more improvements to the playing fields and structures at Camp Jordan than the city would have ever done in the last five years," said Geoff Bragg, president of the baseball division for ages 9-12.

Mayor Brent Lambert -- the lone vote against starting the department -- said the decision had been "fast-tracked," and more time was needed to explore the move.

"They really don't know what's coming," he said of the volunteers. "In fact, I haven't heard much about it either. We could diffuse a lot of anger if we could include the leagues in the discussion."

A second reading of the measure will be voted on during the council's Feb. 9 meeting.