Nearly 80 city residents, seeking answers about the future of the Palestine Athletic Complex, left a public hearing Monday frustrated and angry. Before the meeting started, Mayor Steve Presley, citing ongoing litigation, told them neither city council members nor the city manager could answer their questions.
“This was a waste of time,” Matthew Atterton, 32, told the Herald-Press after the meeting. Atterton, a Walmart Warehouse shipping manager, headed the Palestine Youth Athletic Association last year.
More than a dozen coaches, parents, and concerned residents took their turns at the podium, raising questions about the complex, including alternatives to closing and whether the city could cede the property to a non-profit.
“This was a whole lot of 'Q,' and no 'A,'” Ashley DeLeon, a PYAA board member told the Herald-Press. “The city manager, Leslie Cloer, didn't even seem interested.”
Last week, city council members voted 6-0 to immediately close the complex, citing federal litigation over non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2010. The city could not afford to bring the complex into compliance, council members said.
Roughly 1,000 children in Anderson County, ages 3-15, use the Palestine Athletic Complex for football, baseball, softball, t-ball player and other activities. The complex opened in 1982.
Three days after the council's decision, retired Judge Carey McKinney, president of the Anderson County Football League, was granted a writ of re-entry by Judge James Westley. McKinney was evicted without due process, Westley ruled.
Once the football season ends, however, McKinney's lease is up; baseball, softball, and t-ball players will still be locked-out.
“Is there any way the city could donate or sell the property while it's under litigation?” Atterton asked. “I'll knock it all down and build a new facility within guidelines there myself.”
The answer Atterton received: “The council cannot comment on that, due to ongoing litigation.”
Frustrated residents began to ignore the podium, choosing instead to stand and speak.
“Why didn't the city have a meeting like this before they chose to close the park?” one resident asked.
Again, Presley said he couldn't respond.
Another resident asked when the federal suit would go to court.
“A year from now,” City Attorney Jeff Herrington said, as the crowd gasped. “It's scheduled to be heard a year from now.”
Some residents shook their heads and left.
“We [the PYAA] came here to see where we go next,” DeLeon said. “They [council members] obviously aren't going to move to help the kids in this town; now we know for a fact we're going to have to go and build one ourselves – outside city limits.”