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Palmetto On Fence With County Over Ball Field Contract


PALMETTO -- It has been a cat and mouse game between Manatee County and the City of Palmetto over who makes the next move to get to the magic words, play ball, on the Little League fields of Palmetto. On Monday, the county sent the city the contract and one of its commissioners. But while the city welcomed the latter, it found the former too vague for comfort.

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                                 Artist rendering of proposed fields

"We have to vote for this because the kids have been waiting over five years, and now they are only getting three fields." said City Commissioner Tambra Varnadore. City Commissioner Brian Williams said, "I am concerned about the gender of the fields, there is not one for the girls. I am not in favor of turning the $800,000 over to the county, and the additional $60,000 should go to building the girls a field." 

It's been close to a year since Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant took the $800,000 check to the county commission, where it was turned away because county attorneys hadn't yet sculpted all of the ifs, ands & buts into the contract. Now getting the check in hand has been the center of attention and the caveat if any action is to go forward.

The key words that kept jumping out of the contract the county presented to the city were: "subject to available funds" and city commissioners found them hard to get around. Varnadore said, "They don't have anything on the table, what does this, 'subject to available funds' really mean?" adding, "and it could take until January of 2015."

County Commissioner Michael Gallen was there to iron out some of the predicted wrinkles, and when Varnadore asked if the county had the money to finish the project, Gallen said, "No funds are earmarked now, but this is a priority and I expect it done in a year and a half, in 2014." 

The contract was approved, unanimously by the city commission with much apprehension. City Commissioner Charles Smith said, "I am not in favor of turning the $800,000 over to them. The deed should be offered up on the county's contract. If the maintenance contract the county is supplying falls through for any reason, we should have first option."

Palmetto commissioners felt they had no option but to approve the contract to go forward. City Commissioner Jonathan Davis may have said it best: "For the county to not finish the fields, would be political suicide, guaranteed, this commission would go after them."  

If it wasn't for the sincere and compassionate approach Commissioner Gallen brought with him, the motion to approve may have failed. Nonetheless, Gallen's reassurances notwithstanding, Palmetto will enter the deal with a certain degree of discomfort and seem poised to keep a close eye on the project.


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