Social and Political Commentary

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The city's five million dollar switch

... how the city turned an appropriation for a study for artificial turf into a study
for a $5 million athletic field complex.

by Joe Sullivan


A Jack in the Beanstock switch from a study
about turf into one about a multi-million dollar athletic field complex.


At an evening meeting on September 23, 2010 the group of Aldermen who made up the
cityís Public Works Committee listened to a presentation from the Deputy City
Engineer and City Planner, both city employees, requesting approval and funding for a
feasibility study to see if synthetic turf would be an option for the football and
baseball fields at the high school field.

Both employees felt that after interviewing a number of qualified candidates that
Gale Associates would be the best selection.

The Committee approved an appropriation of $51,500 which, if approved by the Board of
Aldermen, would be charged to the Mount Hood Stabilization Trust Fund. Of course,
Mount Hood had nothing to do with the high school athletic fields, but no explanation
was given for this charge.

A week later, at a special meeting the Board of Aldermen approved the $51,500
appropriation in a meeting that lasted only ten minutes.

Mayor's letter left out of meeting.

Absent from discussion at this meeting was a subject that had a direct bearing on
what would be the true nature of this $51,500 study. In a letter dated September 29,
a day earlier, Mayor Dolan requested that the Board pass Special Legislation that
would allow the city to appropriate money from Mount Hood Golf Course revenues.

The State Law that established the Mount Hood Park and Golf Course expressly forbade
this. The Mayor was asking the Aldermen to set aside this provision so that the city
could take money to fund capital improvements at Pine Banks as well as a High School
Athletic Field Complex.

This presented an incomprehensible contradiction. How could the Aldermen approve the
Mayorís request to spend money on new athletic fields if no such plan for this
project existed? The $51,500 expenditure that the Aldermen would be approving was for
a study to determine the suitability of resurfacing the existing football and
baseball fields with artificial turf. Could it possibly be that the $51,500 would be
used instead to fund a feasibility study devoted to an athletic-field complex?

More importantly, did the Aldermen know about this switch?

And the answer is...

The answer would come four days later when the supposed study for artificial turf
exploded into a plan for a new athletic field complex at the High School Field and a
running track at Pine Banks whose costs would exceed over $5 million.

The first public exposure to this athletic-field plan and its funding was when Mayor
Dolan announced it at his press conference on October 4, 2010. The Board of Aldermen
approved both the plan for the new fields and the so-called Special Legislation
mentioned in the Mayorís September 29 letter that same night.

What should be noticed was that the city government was using a procedure that would
prevent any public participation. No time was allowed for any citizen to ask about
the plans which, up until the time the Aldermen voted for it, were kept secret. The
intention of the secrecy was to prevent any citizen from knowing what was being
planned.

The city had a few loose ends to clear up before the Special Legislation could be
sent on to the State House for its approval. The Park Commission was required to
approve it, and it hadnít done so. The Park Commission was also required to approve
the feasibility study which was significantly different than one approved by the
Aldermen.

These problems were remedied at a Park Commission meeting on October 7 three days
after the Aldermen had voted to approve the Special Legislation and the athletic
field plans.

To help things along a group from the Mayorís staff was present. The subject of the
meeting was a presentation on the feasibility studies of the new athletic field and
running track.

A different description of study at Park Commission meeting.

The description of these studies were significantly different from the one used at
the Public Works Committee on September 23 when $51,500 was appropriated for what was
supposed to be a feasibility study about artificial turf for the High School ball
fields. Somehow this study had turned in to one about a $5 million sports facility.
When the Aldermen approved it a week later.

The City Planner who was making the presentation to the Park Commissioners described
as an advisory committee which was appointed by Mayor Dolan. The seven-person
committee was made up of city employees and volunteers. It was the Committee who
chose Gale Associates to do the study.

There is no mention of a Committee in the minutes of the Public Works Committee on
September 23 when the $51,500 was appropriated. There was no mention of an athletic
field complex there, and no mention was made of an athletic field complex at the
Board of Aldermen meeting that approved this $51,500 appropriation.

It was also stated that Gale Associates was hired August 1 although the Aldermen
didnít approve the study which was to be conducted by Gale until September 30.
Moreover, Gale Associates had already been paid. This would mean the study was paid
for before it was even started.

The $51,500 for the study should not have been charged to the Mount Hood
Stabilization Fund. The city CFO, who was at the meeting, asked the Park Commission
to charge The Mount Hood Pilot account $51,500 so the city could pay back the
Stabilization Fund.

After the fact approval by Park Commission.

Making the change put the charge into a more appropriate account, but it did another
thing too, it would mean the Park Commission had approved the funding of the
feasibility study, something that should have happened before the Board of Aldermen
had approved it.

The Public Works Committee which had no business  initiating a feasibility study that
was clearly the responsibility of the Park Commission, was still on record as the
initiator of it.

There were two issues that had been kept from the public view, consequently
eliminated the issues from public inquiry. The first was that the running track would
be eliminated from its High School field location and evicted to Pine Banks. In
addition, although it would have a beautiful venue, it would not have the dressing
rooms, showers and viewing stands that the new complex at the High School had for its
players.

The second issue that remained secret was that the $5 million plus bonds necessary to
finance these new fields would come from the Mount Hood Golf Course revenues for the
next 25 years.

A fair shake gets eliminated

Public knowledge could have changed these two conditions. You donít have to have a
kid on the track team to know the team was coming out on the short end of the deal if
it was moved to Pine Banks. Itís not hard to imagine a public perception that would
have wanted all the kids in the athletic programs to get a fair shake rather than
excluding some of them in order to have a football field worthy of the Green Bay
Packers.

As far as the Mount Hood money a reasonable question would be, if the city is going
to take this money why does all of it have to go to athletic fields? Public meetings
a few years ago at Mount Hood involved participants who wanted to see the trails
restored and cookout areas reestablished.

Those are questions that donít get asked when our elected city officials exclude them
by voting to approve a multi-million dollar program on the same day its announced.

Citizens should recognize that we have a real problem when the people we elect
manipulate our government processes in order to eliminate participation of citizens
who may be opposed to legislation that the officials are working to enact.

Issues proposed by our city government should be publicly discussed and left open to
comment by the ones who elected them to office.

Passing legislation should not be based on secret agreements between our Mayor and
Aldermen.  


September 6, 20123

    

  


     

       


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