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Examiner
  • Grain Valley take-over of youth leagues draws ire

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  • The way T.J. Parra views it, he was entrusted with a beat-up car that he restored to good health and drives fine, but now the original owner wants it back.
    Grain Valley’s Board of Aldermen voted Monday to take over administration of the city’s youth baseball and softball leagues beginning in the fall from the volunteer-driven Grain Valley Athletic Association, which Parra helped form in 2000 and for which he serves as president.
    Grain Valley officials say the city couldn’t reach a facilities usage agreement with the GVAA after several months of attempts and that it hasn’t received payment from the GVAA since 2011. The city emphasized in a release that Monday’s vote was just about baseball and softball – that football and other fall programs still are slated to take place and it hopes to continue having “constructive conversation” with the GVAA about future administration of other sports.
    Shannon Davies, Grain Valley’s parks and recreation director, said baseball and softball leagues use fields at the Monkey Mountain Sports Complex on the east edge of Grain Valley, which the city leases from Jackson County, Armstrong Park and Grain Valley High School (through a joint usage agreement).
    “We had a few years where we haven’t had a usage agreement with the GVAA,” Grain Valley Mayor Mike Todd said. “We’ve been going on good faith. This past December, we decided, ‘We need to do this.’”
    Parra had said that because of the city’s decision, the GVAA would be folding this week because baseball registrations help make other programs possible. He later backed off that assertion, saying he couldn’t hurt the kids by potentially letting other programs flounder.
    “I’ll have to run it differently,” he said. “I’m going to do what I can to keep it going.”
    The city asked the GVAA to take over a near-defunct baseball program in 2007. At that point, Parra was running a football program he helped organize seven years earlier, when he was a member of the parks board. The GVAA also sponsors track and field, basketball and cheerleading.
    Parra contends that if the city wants to handle baseball and softball, why not the rest of them?
    “The contract states ‘all sports.’ You can’t just pick and choose,” he said. “If they want to take it all over, they can have it all. All the sports help each other out. Baseball is your largest program. There’s over 800 registered and it runs the longest.
    Page 2 of 3 - “They know they can’t afford to do football and don’t want to do football.”
    Parra said football registration has risen only $10 – to $160 – during his time running the program, and players only have to purchase their own cleats beyond that.
    Last December a committee of people from both sides worked on an agreement, which was then sent back to the boards for approval. Davies and city administrator Alexa Barton said the delays in reaching a usage agreement – which ultimately led to Monday’s Board of Aldermen decision after a city staff recommendation – revolved around finding an amount of recoupment comfortable for both sides and when the GVAA would be paying.
    The previous contract that expired in 2011 called for the GVAA to pay 25 percent of all facilities usage cost. The payment that year was for $7,500.
    “We said we were willing to work with them, but we had to see their financials to make educated decisions,” Davies said. “Through that process we looked at, instead of 25 percent, how about a set amount ($2) for each child registered.”
    “They we’re going to start payments in spring, and then they wanted to wait until fall. Of course, this after several meetings and negotiations. We didn’t feel like they were willing to work with us.”
    “We’ve been trying to get that contract done for two or three years,” Barton said, adding that some parks board members were uncomfortable with higher baseball registrations (compared to surrounding cities) being used to offset football costs.
    “We’re hoping to encourage that each program pay for itself,” she said. “I understand why they tried to do that – football is expensive.”
    Todd acknowledged that the city has only administered baseball and softball in the past and that handling football would be tricky since the GVAA has the players’ equipment.
    “We’re still trying to figure out what to do with football,” he said.
    “We’re definitely still in communication to make sure (football) still happens,” Davies added.
    Barton lauded what Parra has done with the GVAA but added some reservations.
    “T.J. Parra did an outstanding job of building that program,” she said. “As it’s grown, I’m not sure administration is what it could be.
    “I think we’re the only community that has a centralized athletic association that runs all youth sports. Other cities make it work with various associations.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Monday’s decision at least caught many in the community by surprise, in part because the agenda just called for discussion. The board was able to vote on a decision Monday without prior resolution because it involved no budget or personnel increase for the city.
    Ernie Cota, who has been coaching his sons’ GVAA baseball teams for five years and has watched a son play football, said he didn’t see the purpose behind the city “shutting down, what is essentially, a growing and thriving program” and said the city isn’t valuing the children as much as the money it could make.
    He questioned if he would have his children participate in city-run sports.
    “The families with kids on our teams, they have that same mentality,” he said. “We don’t feel well staying with a program that wasn’t run well to begin with. They feel they weren’t given chance to speak their opinion.”
    Merideth Parrish, who has had children involved in GVAA programs since she moved to Grain Valley seven years ago and has worked in city government at Blue Springs, doesn’t share as strong an opinion but still wished the public had been given notice.
    “I understand the assessment role of government,” she said. “I think I was more concerned with the process, the visibility of the decision. No matter what the outcome, I was surprised those that were impacted, the families of the children, were not notified.
    “I don’t think anybody’s questioning the city’s capability of running a quality program. But does the decision create public value? Does it enhance partnership. I think we’re going to come to a resolution. People just don’t like surprises.”

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