The Sunnyside City Council faced a packed room Monday night as a group led by Sunnyside Arts and Sports Association (SASA) co-founder Trish Combs came before the council to request intervention in the organization’s negotiations to use the city’s soccer fields.
SASA, which at one time controlled the activities at the Sunnyside Community Center, has been at odds with the city before.
A dozen people spoke at last night’s council meeting in favor of SASA, most of them asking the council to allow the organization the use of the city’s soccer fields.
After the public spoke, City Manager Don Day explained the situation from the city’s point of view to council.
According to Day, the city had a signed agreement with SASA for the use of the city’s soccer fields before the season started. Day said that SASA did not provide team rosters as required by the contract, then SASA requested a refund from the city for the fees it had already paid.
Day said that the city and SASA have been negotiating since then, and a meeting was planned for today, Tuesday, to discuss the issue further. Day said that he was surprised that Combs brought the issue before council.
Combs told the council that the city was treating SASA unfairly and putting obstacles in the organization’s way.
“We were asked to carry $2 million worth of insurance, which no other place, league or anything had that demand on them,” Combs said. She claimed that all other groups only needed $100,000 worth of insurance.
Later in the council meeting, the city approved a contract with the Sunnyside Sharks swim team, which requires a $2 million insurance policy. City staff said the amount is standard in all league agreements.
During her comments, Combs also said that the organization has about 250 children signed up for soccer this season. She also said that she and co-founder Antonio Hidalgo do not get paid for their work.
Combs alleged that the reason SASA is not allowed to play in Sunnyside is because the organization serves youngsters from other communities.
Hidalgo also made the same allegation, claiming that he had asked for a refund because the director of parks and recreation asked for complete rosters that included all players, including those who do not live in Sunnyside.
Combs said her organization wants to work with the city.
“We don’t want anything for free,” she said. “We’re citizens of this community and we want your help. We want a solution. It’s very clear, it’s already in your ordinance, you can donate the parks to whatever event, organization, non-profit, which we are.”
Combs continued, comparing her organization to Cal Ripken Baseball.
“You have a contract already in place with the baseball organization, which I truly respect,” she said.
“We ask that you allow us to consider maybe having the same kind of contract. We have no problem in improving, that’s what we’ve done,” said Combs.
Combs claimed that the clean-up her group does in the parks is the same as the improvements made by the Cal Ripken organization. Day disputed that argument, noting that Cal Ripken Baseball has installed dugouts, fences and buildings.
Mayor Jim Restucci told the crowd that the city council is a legislative body and cannot intervene.
“Although we approve programs, those programs have to be administered by the city manager,” said Restucci. “We’re actually prohibited by law from interfering in his operations.”
Restucci said he was confused by SASA’s request.
“We can’t give you the fields for free, that would be a violation of the Washington state constitution, under the gifting of public funds,” he said.
Combs and her supporters also argued that as taxpayers, they have a right to use the fields. Restucci pointed out that the city has more than 16,000 people, and the council cannot favor one group of taxpayers over another.
When Day explained that rosters are required to confirm the $10 fee per player in the league, a parent questioned what the fee is used for and said that Sunnyside is a poverty-stricken area, and asking them to pay $10 on top of league registration fees is too much.
Councilman Craig Hicks asked how much the registration fee for SASA leagues is per child. Combs said it is $35. She also said parents contribute money at each game to pay for referees.
Day noted that SASA had already signed an agreement and paid the fee for 246 children to play in the league. He said that the lack of team rosters was the only thing holding SASA back.
Day said he had also offered the league access to local fields if it provided the city with preliminary rosters, but did not receive anything in time for the second weekend of play.
Restucci told Combs and Hidalgo that an agreement needs to be worked out with the city and with the board of parks and recreation. He said that the city manager would report the results of the meeting with SASA to the council at its next meeting.