Private Management of Softball Fields Draws Public Complaints

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Copyright 2013 Richmond Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
September 16, 2013 Monday
State Edition
METRO; Pg. B-02
614 words
Softball options in Chesterfield;
Private company has been running fields; is contract is in limbo
TED STRONG

A proposal to extend the contact of the private company running Chesterfield County's softball fields has been delayed because officials balked after some residents cried foul, raising issues from field conditions to alcohol consumption.

"I think we've had a good relationship," said Butch Tiller, the man behind Softball Nation, the company that has the contract. "Parks and Rec and myself, we're on the same page, basically, and things have been going along pretty good. I'd like to continue, and I think Parks and Rec would like to continue."

But in the face of divided public opinion, the Board of Supervisors is re-examining its options. At Wednesday's meeting, it could award the contract to Softball Nation, solicit bids to run the fields again, or tell parks and recreation to take them over in part or fully.

The contract arrangement was developed in 2010, after the county's Board of Supervisors sharply cut the Parks and Recreation budget in reaction to tough economic times.

County Parks and Recreation Director Michael Golden said the company outbid competitors for the original contract and has been paying the county $65,000 per year for the right to run the fields. The new contract was negotiated at $45,000 per year, he said, and no other companies bid. It would run for three years, with an option to renew for two more.

Golden said he sees no reason Softball Nation could not do a good job running the fields and does not have qualms about awarding it the contract.

Tiller's company oversees six fields at the Iron Bridge Athletic Complex and three at the Warbro Athletic Complex. The county is responsible for major maintenance projects; Tiller's company handles the minor things.

Tiller is the first to admit that the fields aren't the nicest around. But, he said, they are far better than the fields he took over three years ago, when his company first got its contract.

"They're not The Diamond,but it's better than it was," he said.

The company, which runs tournaments elsewhere as well, relies on tournaments to make the contract work. The contract also includes league games during the week.

"We have more than just leagues, we have tournaments and we have a strong tournament program that helps support everything," Tiller said.

He said getting a new contract in place right away isn't a necessity for him, because his operation is in place. But if the county wants to have someone else run the facility, the decision needs to be made soon, so the next person can get set up.

"I think you have to look at the people who have been speaking, and you have to differentiate from the people who play softball and the people who don't play softball," he said.

Public comment at recent Board of Supervisors meetings has been sharply divided on the question. Topics have ranged from field conditions to alcohol consumption at the fields.

"What I've learned made me want to ask for a refund on some of the taxes I've paid to hire public servants who are supposed to be taking care of business for us citizens," said resident Brenda Stewart.

Stewart had reservations about everything from the way the 2010 contracting was handled to the way the utilities were paid for the facilities to record keeping.

"When the county ran things, if it rained, you didn't play," said Fletcher Johnson, who umpires for Softball Nation. "Now, if it rains, they get out there, clean the fields and we play, and that is what the teams appreciate ... and what they look for in someone who is going to be taking care of the park for them."

tstrong@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6861

Copyright © 2013, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@timesdispatch.com

September 17, 2013

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