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Park board, PCAA
struggle to play nice

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

At issue: a tractor, a bunch of skate boards and baseball fields.
According to Dan Houlahan, the Platte County Athletic Association (PCAA) capital development chairman and former president, the Platte City Park and Recreation board wants to play games that most of the players don't want to play (i.e. skateboarding). The parks and recreation board has countered by saying Houlahan doesn't agree with them, so he wants to take his proverbial ball (a tractor) and go home.

Part 1: The Tractor
The tractor, which has become the central figure in the dispute, was partially funded by Platte County to the PCAA in a 2001 parks and recreation outreach grant. The John Deere tractor was ostensibly purchased to assist in caring for the city's ball fields.

Houlahan said he offered to lease the tractor to Platte City for $1 a year, but the city rejected his plans for the lease.

Richard Stephens, park board president, says the lease comes with too many strings attached.

"Dan wanted a contract and he sent us many, many contracts and I didn't agree with any of them," Stephens said.

According to Stephens, the PCAA received the grant for the tractor so they could use it to upkeep their fields. They then ran out of volunteer help to actually use the tractor, so former PCAA president Dan Tylski asked the city to provide maintenance for the fields. Stephens said that he and Tylski agreed that the board would then charge the PCAA for the costs of maintaining the fields. Stephens said that under Houlahan, the fees weren't paid.

Houlahan counters that he asked the board to implement a user fee per child that the PCAA could collect through registration dues. To date, the board has yet to agree on the fee or if there should even be one.

Tylski tells a slightly different version.
"The city has always mowed the fields, and the PCAA has always maintained them," Tylski said. "Now I don't know about you, but times are hard and it's difficult to get volunteers who can put in the time to maintain baseball fields.”

Maintenance, and not who owns the tractor, is the main problem according to Tylski.

"Everybody wants to fund the creation of the parks and get all of the glory, but nobody wants to work at maintaining them.”

Tylski said the whole tractor dispute was started by the city in the first place.

"Everyone used an old Ford tractor that the city had until (City Administrator) Keith Moody sold it without ever telling any of us. He basically said 'nobody's using this' and he sold it without even offering us the chance to buy it.”

When reached for comment, Moody offered a different version, saying the city had another tractor. The original tractor, Moody said, was sold at public auction after the city decided to contract out their mowing services, thus eliminating the need for the second tractor. He did not specify what the second tractor was being used for.

Part 2: Baseball players and skateboards
The reason why ball fields need to be maintained by industrial strength tractors is because a lot of people want to play on them. So many in fact, Tylski said the demand has far outreached supply.

"The PCAA outgrew the fields and couldn't serve enough potential players," Trylski said.

Houlahan clearly agrees, and he takes issue with the fact that the city has decided to not follow the Platte Ridge Park master plan's first phase, which called for the creation of four more baseball fields. He's also upset about the city's continued interest in building a skate board park. On Monday evening, he told the park board how he felt.

"I'm all for minority sports, but if we're planning on giving $50,000 for a skatepark that is going to support 50 skateboarders and give nothing to a baseball field that can support 550 baseball players, then I have a real problem with that," Houlahan said.

Park board member Lisa Rehard, in turn, had a problem with Houlahan's assessment. Rehard, who also serves on the board for the chamber of commerce and is a partner in a downtown law firm, pointed to a $35,000 grant the city helped obtain from the county. The grant provided for the construction of a new softball field at the high school.

"I wrote that grant (proposal)," Houlahan pointed out.

"Then you should know," Rehard fired back, adding that the city threw in matching funds and had traditionally donated to baseball in the city. "It's a little unfair to say that we haven't supported baseball in Platte City when we have.”

Tylski agrees, saying that traditionally the city has donated funds to the PCAA.

"Even though many of the players aren't Platte City residents, they are R-3 students and the city has traditionally recognized that."

Houlahan acknowledged the past support and again reiterated his stance against the skatepark.

"Normally, I'd be their biggest champion...I just think that right now they are a smaller group, and the baseball population is being underserved.”

Stephens said that the skatepark is a non-issue in any event. He asserts the board is not choosing skateboarding over baseball, but he is interested in diversity.

"We have four baseball fields in Platte City and zero soccer fields," Stephens explained. "(Houlahan) is very intent on baseball and that's admirable, but we're a bit more broader focused (on the board).”

Stephens said the city, in the midst of a financial crisis, wasn't able to afford the baseball fields at this time. He also said the skatepark discussion is in its infancy.

"We are literally months away from the first step," Stephens stated.

Stephens expressed optimism that the dispute will be settled soon. He hopes that the county board of parks and recreation will help the two parties reach agreement.

"This is counterproductive," Stephens said. "Dan and I need to sit down with a mediator and work this out. I'm getting tired of this."