Legal definition prompts controversy between City of Bethel and its park’s users

by Kyle Clayton on June 20, 2013

The Pinky's Park ball field is closed for maintenance through the end of the week. /Photo by Kyle Clayton

The Pinky’s Park ball field is closed for maintenance through the end of the week. /Photo by Kyle Clayton

The City of Bethel’s mandate for sport’s leagues to provide proof of insurance ruffled some Pinky Park field user’s feathers this week. But as it turns out, the concern is the result of a miscommunication between the city and its residents.

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The controversy sparked after several residents expressed their concerns to the city council about the dismal state of the ball field.

“In 2011 we abandoned the field, the little league did, because we felt it was unsafe and we felt that we did not have a partner in maintaining the field,” Dan Hartman says during public comment at the council’s June 11 meeting.

City Attorney Patty Burley promptly wrote a letter informing field users the city would close the park between June 17 through June 23 to perform repairs and, for liability’s sake, begin requiring proof of insurance from leagues.

Ultimate Frisbee and softball player Zach Fansler says he was hoping those improvements would be made to the field so that everyone could play safely.

“And also the ability to continue to do that and not have it say be required to get insurance or anything like that which I think was an initial fear that stemmed from the letters that were sent out,” Fansler says.

But Burley says there’s been a miscommunication between what is defined as a league versus a pick up game.

“A pick up game is a group of folks, they could be organized or unorganized, but they play regularly, they get together but they’re not sponsored, they’re not under those requirements,” Burley says. “If they don’t show up or they don’t play, nobody’s going to ding them for it.”

In other words, unless an official parent league sponsors a local organization, when insurance is already required, individuals or groups are free to toss Frisbees or softballs in Bethel parks without insurance.

Burley says officially sponsored leagues will be given priority for scheduling while unofficial leagues will have time allotted on a first come first serve basis.

As far as maintenance of Pinky’s Park is concerned, Parks and Rec Director Ronda Sargent say her department has unloaded about 15 loads of topsoil onto the infield.

“It’s practically even now with the outfield, and we took out the tufts that were high in the outfield and mowed the rest down,” Sargent says. “Now it’s even and there’s no holes.”

Sargent says her department relies on two full-time employees and whoever else wants to volunteer to maintain city parks during their five-month season. During the winter they have no staff to maintain the grounds but parks and rec will respond to complaints made by residents.

The department has allocated more than $17,000 dollars for park maintenance this fiscal year, which is roughly 2 percent of its operating expenditures.

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