Two days after Palestine City Council members voted 6-0 to close the Palestine Athletic Complex, youth leaders said city officials shut the public out of the decision.
Carey McKinney, president of the Anderson County Football League, said city officials gave the public no chance to discuss closing the athletic complex, a decision that sidelined hundreds of local kids.
“They (city officials) need to take all the stuff down off their website about being transparent, about open government, and about working together,” McKinney told the Herald-Press Wednesday. “None of it seems to be true.”
Meantime, some community members are raising questions about whether city officials could have avoided the shutdown by meeting with plaintiff Michael Ivy, when he requested a meeting with the city last year.
Ivy, who uses a wheelchair, later sued the city for not complying with federal disability guidelines.
Former City Manager Michael Hornes declined to comment Wednesday.
City officials said this week the city couldn't afford to bring the complex into compliance with federal law.
Closing the athletic complex, in a city often characterized as offering few activities for young people, leaves nearly 1,000 Anderson County kids, ages 3 to 15, without a place to play. Another 1,000 kids – in competing teams from outside Anderson County – also used the complex's athletic fields.
The Anderson County Football League organized football teams for boys, ages 8-12, as well as cheerleaders for those teams. Another non-profit, the Palestine Youth Athletic Association, sponsored baseball, softball, and Tee-ball games for boys and girls, ages 3-15.
The ACFL has already invested roughly $4,000 in uniforms and equipment for this season, McKinney said, plus $2,100 for insurance the city required.
So far, the city has committed to refunding only registration fees.
Ashley DeLeon, a member of the Palestine Youth Athletic Association, said the city should have notified coaches and board members earlier, so they could start figuring out alternatives for the kids.
“Transparency would have been great,” she said.
DeLeon, a 29-year-old nursing student, said city officials possibly could have avoided closing the athletic complex, if they had sat down with Ivy in August of 2018. That's when Ivy sent the city a certified letter requesting a meeting to discuss getting the complex to comply with the American with Disabilities Act.
Other people have made similar complaints.
“You'd think the city would have taken the easy route, and simply sat down and discussed it last year when Mr. Ivy sent his letter,” DeLeon said.
The posted agenda for Monday's city council meeting did not cite the possibility of the facility's closure.
“It would have been better if they took the shock factor out of it,” Mike Kelly, chairman of the Parks Advisory Board told the Herald-Press. “I understand why they made their decision; I don't especially like it, but I understand.”
On Wednesday, Ivy's attorneys stated he made “multiple attempts to work with the city to bring the complex into compliance with the ADA,” before filing the lawsuit.
Ivy sent a certified letter to the city in August 2018, requesting a meeting to discuss getting the facility within ADA compliance.
After receiving no response from the city for nine months, Ivy's lawyers said, a lawsuit was filed, demanding compliance with a 2010 federal ADA law.
Ivy is not entitled to monetary damages for filing an ADA lawsuit. Any money fined to the city would be payable to the federal government.
The statement from Ivy's attorneys, Dunbar & Monroe, also said closing the park was the last thing Ivy wanted.
“Mr. Ivy is deeply saddened to learn of the City of Palestine’s decision to shut down the Palestine Athletic Complex due to costs associated with bringing the complex into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the press release said.
Mayor Steve Presley said he doesn't think the matter was ever brought before past city councils.
“Everyone thought (the complex) was grandfathered in, and changes didn't need to be made,” he said.