01-22 public forum-01

Palestine Parks Advisory Board Chairman Mike Kelly (right) speaks out at a public forum Tuesday while City Manager Leslie Cloer looks on.

City Manager Leslie Cloer told nearly 40 Anderson County residents Tuesday Palestine's Athletic Complex could re-open by spring of 2021.

Some residents, however, speaking at a public forum at Palestine High School, said they didn't trust the city to resolve a problem that has left nearly 1,000 Anderson County kids, ages 3 to 15, without a place to play.

“Eight months have gone by,” Palestine resident Emily Russell called out from her seat in the high school auditorium. “Eight months of waiting, and no plan has been made. You're losing your community. Can't you see that?”

City Council members closed the complex last September, after resident Michael Ivy filed a federal American With Disabilities Act lawsuit, citing non-ADA compliant conditions at the park.

On Dec, 23, however, the suit was dismissed, without prejudice.

ADA violations remain. When the city closed the facility last year, officials estimated it would cost millions of dollars to bring the complex into compliance with federal law.

City officials would need to devise an ADA approved plan for bringing the facility into compliance, Cloer said, or the city could face similar lawsuits in the future.

City Council members will take up the issue, Cloer said, urging those present to get others in the community involved.

Chris Holman, chairman of Palestine's Youth Athletic Association, said he was ready to begin work on the complex immediately.

“We have businesses and individuals willing to donate the time, money and equipment to bring the complex into compliance,” he said. “We need to just go ahead and get it done.”

Several residents had volunteered time, money, and equipment to defray the cost of repairs. The city refused all offers, citing pending litigation.

With the suit now dismissed, some residents are all but demanding the opportunity to help.

“We're ready tonight,” Palestine resident Tony McCarty said.

Others expressed anger at the city's lack of communication.

“No one tells the community anything about how the plan is progressing,” a resident called out. “It's like the whole thing's been a big secret up until now.”

The city lacks a master plan for the complex, Cloer said, or for any of its parks. “That is one of the primary duties of our elected officials: devise a master plan for the city going forward,” she said.

The Anderson County Football League, which organized football teams for boys, ages 8-12, as well as cheerleaders for those teams, was a patron of the facility. Another non-profit that utilized the complex, the Palestine Youth Athletic Association, sponsored baseball, softball, and Tee-ball games for boys and girls, ages 3-15 there.

Left without fields on which to practice or play, representatives for the ACFL and PYAA have been negotiating with other leagues for the past several months, trying to find viable alternatives.

Aside from Anderson County kids, another 1,000 kids – in competing teams from outside Anderson County – also used the complex's athletic fields.

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