The Natalia City Council approved the baseball field usage contract with the Natalia Little League for another year after a contentious discussion with NLL President Jaime Gomez during the Regular Council meeting held Monday, October 21.
No changes were made to the contract.
Gomez expressed frustration with a number of issues, from the increase in dumpster rental fees to the hourly cost for providing security officers at the fields to occasional disputes with Council over NLL’s practice of sub-leasing the fields, but touted the NLL’s $29.00 registration fee.
“That’s the lowest anywhere,” Gomez said. “Whatever town you go to and look at for District 21 Little League, we’re at $29.00. Why are we at $29.00? Because we don’t lie, cheat, or steal.”
Gomez said that Edward Castro was the only person to rent the fields besides teams who booked it on an hourly basis for practice, and that without the tournaments Castro brings to town, the NLL would have lost out on $5,550 in revenue.
“The reason your fees are $29.00 is because Edward does a good job on the rental fees and makes you money as a business,” Councilman Darin Frazier said.
Gomez said the NLL Board lowered the registration fee to get more kids involved.
“If we were there to profit off anything, line our own pockets, it wouldn’t be at $29.00,” Gomez said.
Gomez added that the electricity bill for the year was $5,844; a figure that was greater than the revenue brought in by Castro’s tournaments, and expressed a desire for more tournaments to be held.
“That’s more money going to the league,” Gomez said. “Whoever runs those tournaments does profit. Again, I don’t care what they make, I care that we make what we need to make for the kids.”
Gomez said that the NLL is in the process of paying off over $8,000 in IRS fines incurred by previous Boards not correctly filing taxes as a 501(c)(3) and then refusing to pay fines, which have continued to accrue.
Gomez then repeated his dissatisfaction with the cost of providing a security officer, currently set at $30.00 an hour, and that security is needed at both tournaments and events that are expected to draw a crowd of at least 100 spectators.
City Administrator Lisa Hernandez read out a clause in the contract that gives the Natalia police chief discretion to authorize differently by case, matter, issue, or expense. Gomez objected to former chief Gilbert Rodriguez’s requirement that a security officer be on scene from the first pitch until the last pitch, claiming that Rodriguez questioned his concern for kids’ safety,.
Gomez said he didn’t want to be blindsided with rate increases.
“I’m not protecting [Castro], I’m protecting the Little League,” Gomez said, adding that increased fees were pushing Castro to Pearsall. “I said ‘We need you here, the league needs you here, nobody else is going to rent it in the offseason. Nobody else is going to help us out, you need to help us out.'”
Councilman Darin Frazier said that the NLL was being run as a business and that fee increases should be offset in other ways, and that people would continue to come as long as the facility was nice.
“I understand where you’re at with the fees, and I appreciate the $29.00, Mr. Castro doing his portion is great,” Frazier said. “But the bottom line is the complaint about the fees, when you’re sub-leasing it, when it’s a City-owned property for our citizens it’s hard for us to say we’re sympathetic because we’re already giving you a lot.”
Gomez pointed out that the tournaments bring revenue to the city through sales tax.
Councilwoman Selica Vera pointed out that the contract states that it will be reviewed every year, and Gomez requested that it be kept the same, without any rate increases.
Former Councilman Ruben Juarez said the money collected from Castro’s tournaments was used to pay utilities and dumpster fees, while registration fees were used to run the NLL.
“And that’s the reason we’re requesting to keep [the contract],” Juarez said. You know, if y’all can help us out as much as possible just so we can keep [Castro] here. So if he leaves, then that money is coming out of the Little League fund, so you’re taking away from the kids.”
Gomez returned to the issue of security officers, saying that “sources” had told him the hourly fee might be raised to $35.
Frazier and Councilman Sam Bluemel made a motion to renew the contract with the NLL for another year without making any changes, and Bluemel explained that because officers volunteer to work security and aren’t paid by the City, they can ask for whatever rate they want.
“They can come in and say, ‘I’ll do it, but I’m only going to do it for $40.00 an hour,'” Bluemel said.
Gomez said that Rodriguez’s decision to require a security officer from the first pitch to the last pitch was based on “hearsay” that alcohol was being consumed at the fields.
“And it’s like, ‘Can you show me a police report?'” Gomez said. “Said ‘I don’t need a police report.’ I’m like, so you could pretty much do whatever you want because of that contract.”
After discussion of who should have keys to the field and who actually possesses them, Mayor Tommy Ortiz and Councilman Sam Smith brought up the fact that the NLL is supposed to provide monthly bank statements to Council.
Gomez acknowledged that requirement to provide financial information was in the contract, but said that the NLL’s oversight is Little League’s District 21 Board, not Council.
“You came to my house, showed me a bank statement, and said, ‘I will give you this every month,” Smith said. “And I said, ‘That’s all we ask, is when you receive it, print an extra one and come give it to Lisa, that’s all we ask.'”
Gomez said the responsibility for that falls on the Board’s treasurer, but protested having to provide Council with any information.
“I don’t know why y’all should be an oversight on our financials,” Gomez said. “If y’all want to know our financials, you can go to our meetings like other citizens.”
Councilman Mike Fernandez replied that Council needed to be aware of the NLL’s financial situation because if they don’t pay their bills, the responsibility falls to the City because the City owns the fields.
“The City has never paid anything for the Little League, that’s false,” Gomez said. “Have oversight on that City park over there that’s sitting bare over there. That’s what y’all need to have oversight on.”
Frazier suggested that he and Bluemel withdraw their motion to approve the contract.
“That’s fine, I want you to do that,” Gomez said, raising his voice. “Do it, do it, do it.”
“I’m just doing it because I want to know that we’re in charge, because we’re responsible,” Frazier said.
“Be in charge, that’s all you want, that’s all you want, that’s all he wanted,” Gomez said. “Take it back, take it back if you want it. Take it. That’s all you wanted, in charge, that’s why you want financials”
Vera attempted to repeat Fernandez’s point that any unpaid bills fall back on the City and consequently City taxpayers, but Gomez continued to shout, “He’s in charge!” before ultimately walking out of the meeting.
“It’s just accountability,” Vera said. “To make sure that utility bills get paid, because the City, we have to pay them if they’re not.”
“We the Council, we don’t care if they have $50,000 in a separate account or whatever,” Ortiz said. “But we, the City, are accountable for anything.”
Juarez said that when he served on Council, the issue of the NLL providing financial statements wasn’t brought up.
“It was always brought up, it just wasn’t done,” Smith said. “Nobody ever brought them, and it’s in the contract with the Little League.”
“I was on the Council at that time, and it was never brought up as much as it is now,” Juarez said. “And that’s all we’re bringing to the attention.”
“What do you mean, as much as it is now?” Smith asked. “I just asked a while ago. When else was it brought up? One time, I just asked.”
“At the end of the year last year as well,” Juarez replied.
“Because we didn’t get them,” Smith said, and repeated that Gomez had come to Smith’s house to discuss what kind of financial statement was needed. “[Gomez] brought the bank statement to me and said, ‘This is what we have.’ I said, ‘Jaime that’s fine, we don’t want an itemized thing of what you make, what you don’t make. This is all we want, you bring that to us, we’re going to get it and [Hernandez] is going to put it in a file and that’s where it’s going to be kept.'”
“We’ll get y’all that if that’s all you’re requesting,” Juarez said.
“That’s all we want,” Smith replied.
The Frazier-Bluemel motion to renew the NLL contract with no changes passed unanimously.
By Marly Davis