BBSB removes belongings from the Sportsplex

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Parents and citizens of Blytheville have been abuzz since it was recently announced that the Blytheville Baseball Softball Boosters [BBSB] “will not be operating the local league for the 2018 season at the Youth Sportsplex.” Additionally, speculation and buzz has increased since the BBSB has begun to “remove their belongings” from the Sportsplex.

BBSB President Jonathan Howard has confirmed that the process of removing their property has begun.

“Yeah. Weather permitting we are getting our belongings out from out there,” Howard said. “We own all the equipment that was in the concession stand and most of that has been [removed]…and then what is left…weather permitting, is playing equipment and you know different items like that…that we have out there…team gear racks and golf cart and different stuff like that.”

When asked if things such as the batting cages were being removed, Howard said, “Yes, we own those nets that are part of the batting cages. Now the cage structure itself will always be there. But the nets themselves belong to BBSB. Anything that is a structure or a part of the facility is staying…the roofs of the dugouts were put in by the BBSB – they are staying. We are not taking the roofs to the dugouts. The yellow polycaps that are put on top of the fences for safety, they are staying. We feel it’s part of the complex. Things like that, all of that stuff will stay. But we will take the equipment that is ours.”

Howard stated in his December 19 letter given to Mayor James Sanders that the reason for their decision to no longer operate the league was because “we operate a program that has a core belief to provide a recreational league for all of our area youth first and foremost. We are not a travel team league like some want us to be. Unfortunately over the past year, we have had a group of people mislead an elected official on this matter. And due to the blatant backdooring and constant barrage of attacks against BBSB, we have decided as a group of volunteers, we cannot take on the added headaches of these antics. As the largest volunteer group for Mississippi County, we cannot and will not get involved in politics.”

He also added this week, “The biggest thing I want people to understand is that the reason the decision was made is because of the non truths and the misinformation that was being tossed around and talked about and when you have an elected city official that gets on social media and talks about there needs to be new management out there and then takes it a step further and gets personal with folks, a person has to evaluate their position and with our positions being volunteers that is attacks that we just feel like we shouldn’t be under.”

Despite the fact that after weeks of squabbling over whether or not to allow USSSA [Utrip] baseball tournaments at the Sportsplex, on October 11 the Blytheville Baseball Facilities Board once again agreed to award the BBSB the continued exclusive rights to manage and oversee all programs at the Blytheville Youth Sportsplex. However just two months later, the BBSB changed their minds. They did announce, however, that they had no plans to disband.

Another dimension of the conflict arose when Councilwoman Barbara Brothers began questioning the BBSB regarding their need to comply with the current city ordinances that govern the management of the Sportsplex and the requirement that all revenue from the facility must be reinvested back into the Sportsplex. She also added that the city needs a copy of paperwork proving what is owned by the BBSB and what is owned by the city in order for the city to qualify for future grants to help repair and make improvements at the Sportsplex. Lastly, she has said that a contract needed to be drawn up between the city and BBSB, detailing what the BBSB is responsible for and what the City of responsible for, just as the City of Jonesboro does with their program.

Mayor James Sanders told the CN on December 26, 2017 that he had reached out to see if he and Howard could meet sometime after the holidays to discuss their decision.

“Well I did contact Jonathan to see if we can discuss this further, because like I said, the children are important and our ball teams are important…these are some good people. The BBSB and our Facilities Board are good folks. I just want to come together with them and discuss with them why these decisions are being made,” Sanders said.

Howard, Sanders and Facilities Board President Ryan Perkins had one meeting on Wednesday, December 27.

“Well it was a matter of…he got more of an understanding of where we are at with this whole debacle…there really wasn’t anything agreed to or done. I think it was just a conversation between he and I about what exactly led us to the decision that we made so that he would have a better understanding,” Howard said when asked about the meeting.

When Howard was asked what it would take for the BBSB to change their mind and once again agree to manage the league in 2018, he said, “Well I believe that is, right now at this current point in time, that is a question that I am not going to comment on. That was a question from the mayor to me in our conversation and he has been made aware of that so I don’t want to comment on that right now to disrupt anything right now that he may be working on.”

When pressed further regarding whether if they fail to come to an agreement, would the BBSB simply sit out a year or would they attempt to manage leagues elsewhere, he added, “Well, I mean, if there is no agreement that is come to, we will just be looking at what our options would be…Well, depending on what takes place now, you know there is other facilities around town that could be utilized for something…bottom line is, what we do and what we have done for so many years is provide a service for the community kids of this area. And depending on what takes place, there may or may not be some options available for something. All of that is just going to depend on what is done.”

When Brothers was asked on December 26, 2017 if she hoped the BBSB changes their mind and once again agrees to operate the league in 2018, Brothers said, “We never wanted them to quit. We just wanted that we’d get within the law…we never asked them to step back or to not participate…we encourage them. They have worked very hard over the years, but it just had to be a more clear picture..”

When asked if the BBSB recognizes that they are required by city ordinance to provide the city with information regarding the receipts from the facility, not BBSB donations, but receipts such as gate income and concessions sales, Howard answered, “BBSB recognizes that we have to report to the Facilities Board about our financials. That ordinance does not say that we have to report to every member of the city council and that ordinance does not say that we have to report to anybody and everybody. We have to report to the Facilities Board and the chairman of the Facilities Board and I have…there was an understanding between the Facilities Board and I that if they needed to see our financials then we’d sit down and go over our financials with them. And the mayor was extended that same offer.”

Howard said that he has seen the ordinance and also added, “If the Chairman of the Facilities Board requests our financials then we will sit down and discuss our financials, but until that date occurs then there is no need…they never wanted to see our financials, they never had any questions about our financials, therefore no financials were ever discussed at a Facilities Board meeting…When they reappointed the Facilities Board, we had nothing going on at the Sportsplex and therefore the Chairman of the Facilities Board never wanted to see our financials…we weren’t operating…we didn’t have our Fall league or anything. There was an attempt to have a softball tournament at the Sportsplex, but that was not BBSB affiliated.”

Ordinance 1535, section 5-6 (adopted October 16, 2001) states, “It is the intention of the City Council that any gross profits earned at any facility be expended for the betterment of that specific facility. By adopting this Ordinance, it is not the intention of the Mayor or the City Council to abandon their control over the public property involved in the baseball facilities. The City Council has the final voice in all matters relating to operation of the facilities but will exercise that power as rarely as possible in order to give the Facilities Board freedom in carrying out their duties provided in the Ordinance.”

Changes were made in city policy with Ordinance 1752, sections 2-3 (adopted September 17, 2013) which states that the Facilities Board shall “submit written reports to the Mayor and City Council each month. This monthly report shall include a summary of the receipts and expenditures for each facility. The Board will supervise the collection of fees and other income of each facility and the payment of necessary and proper expenses of each facility. The Secretary-Treasurer of the Board will prepare minutes of all meetings and retain them permanently. The Board may authorize the “Association”, or such other entity which may exist in the future to operate the baseball facilities on a day-to- day basis which shall include collecting receipts for admission, concessions and any other incidental receipts. The Association shall retain all funds collected which shall be exclusively used for the expenses of operating the baseball facilities, including payment to vendors, umpires and other related expenses. The Association shall maintain a record of all receipts and expenditures and submit a report of said receipts and expenditures each month during the months the facilities are actively operating to the Board.”

While apparently there was an agreement between Howard and Perkins, on November 2, 2017, Perkins said during the Facilities Board meeting, “I want to make this clear. Is that my job to get involved in BBSB board books? I needed to know what my...I thought I’m here to improve parks not meddle in BBSB’s business.”

Perkins told the CN Thursday, when questioned about rumors that he had resigned his position, said, “I submitted my letter or resignation to the mayor on December 22, the Friday before Christmas. However, the city council has not met yet to approve it. I fully support the BBSB and have many friends that serve on that board. I feel being on the Facilities Board right now would be a conflict of interest.”

Brent Edwards is the current Facilities Board Vice President and would most likely be the one to take over once Perkin’s resignation is accepted.

No word has been given as to when additional appointments will be made by to the board.

Additionally, the 2018 City of Blytheville Budget listed $12,000 through CATPC from the Hotel and Tourism tax to be allocated to the BBSB. No word has been given regarding whether that money will still be dispersed or not.

Mayor Sanders had no further comment on the matter.

thenry@blythevillecourier.com