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Local Government Bottom of the 9th and it Looks Like Rain


BRADENTON -- Palmetto Mayor Shirley Grover Bryant arrived at Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting toting an $800,000 check from the City of Palmetto, hoping for a base hit to start the long-awaited North River Little League baseball fields to replace the one used in the construction of a new elementary school. The contracts hadn't been drawn up yet, but that wasn't the only problem commissioners had with accepting the check. The gesture led to some defining moments. What has taken almost four years to prepare hit a couple of uncomfortable bumps in the road. But all agree, the only goal is to get the fields built. 

Some of the kids have grown out of their little league shoes while waiting to round the bases. Players, parents and coaches have heard all of the excuses, but ball fields aren't built for just one generation, they are the ground that keeps on giving, and there are still a whole lot of little feet waiting to hear two simple words: play ball. 

Adults are a different animal. We all seem to have a lot of talent in the making things difficult category, and one has to wonder, as Commissioner Joe McClash asked, "How difficult is it?" It was obvious when Deputy County Attorney Bill Clague came running out to rescue the moment, shortly after I took a picture of Mayor Bryant holding the check, that somebody was doing something unapproved. He said there was no way Manatee County could accept the check without the paperwork. Clague said he was working on it, but it wasn't ready yet. 

There was a caveat in the deal that was the real snag in this little celebration: It wasn't enough money. The short story: the City of Palmetto and Manatee County decided years ago to replace the beat-to-death fields that weren't in good enough shape to play tournament ball on. The plan was to build a new field with all of the bells and whistles, like a real parking lot and a concession stand. Manatee owned the land and Palmetto would handle the wherewithal in building what was to cost just over two million dollars.

The Manatee County School Board delivered half of the bucks in exchange for the land, and in time, the rest could be raised -- or so it was thought. The recession, the cost of feasible studies, engineers and attorney fees started eating into the money, and time eroded the urgency. So the plans changed and the location too. Everyone ran short of money and couldn't find the bucks to secure the deal through completion. Palmetto still had $800,000 and since both governments had just recently agreed to go forward, Palmetto Commissioners decided to take the check across the bridge.

The trouble was the BOCC, who had put the project on the back burner, thought Palmetto should come up with some more cash, but both were crying broke. Palmetto was bringing the check to seal the deal, saying in effect, that's it, and that others who will be using the fields need to pitch in too. No one wanted to get stuck being the one that couldn't finish the project. 

The teams using the fields will be the North River American Little League district. The City of Palmetto decided that since they are only 11.6 percent of the total NRALL area, and 33 percent of the population, they could fairly ask for others to pick up the extra expenses. Trouble is, none of the other governments have extra either. So you see, they will find the money somewhere, as soon as someone blinks. 

There is a commitment on both sides of the river to finish the field, and no doubt by the 23rd of this month when they get together again, resolve will be in the air. It will be the sound of sweet little voices asking, please, can we play ball.


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