The city of Gillette wants to take over scheduling of youth sporting events at the Energy Capital Sports Complex and the Little League fields at Dalbey Park.
It’s a move that has drawn criticism from some and support from others.
In mid-August, City Administrator Pat Davidson wrote a letter to Gillette Little League President Mike Leisy and Gillette Girls Fast Pitch Association President Jim West stating the city will not renew leases with the organizations at either the Energy Capital Sports Complex or Dalbey Memorial Park. Instead, the city will manage the fields, including scheduling games and events.
The city will request teams have their tournament, game and practice schedules submitted by Jan. 31 to give staff a chance to make plans and reservations. The city will prioritize tournaments over all activities, followed by high school girls softball (scheduled to begin in 2021), conference and non-conference games and practices.
Gillette Little League’s lease expired Sept. 1 while the Fast Pitch Association’s will end Nov. 1, City Attorney Tony Reyes said.
Leisy wants to know what the organization, which averages about 800 participants ages 4-12, did wrong to prompt the city to take over fields the Little League group has leased and managed for decades.
“As far as we know we thought we were doing a great job after controlling the schedule for 50 years and never having any conflicts with any other organization,” he said. “It feels like a slap in the face with the partnership we have with them.
“We’ve always done everything (the city) asked. We asked them (for) permission to build anything new. It doesn’t make any sense to us as to why they would do so,” he said.
West said the decision was a little shocking, but after talking to city officials and the softball board, he believes the city is just trying to give everyone public access to the fields.
The reason people are reacting passionately is because the letter the city sent to both organizations were identical and “pretty generic,” West said.
Some people felt like their lease was going to be taken away to accommodate fast-pitch softball, which is “far from the absolute truth,” he said.
The future of Little League
The leases pertain directly to the Gillette Little League and Gillette Girls Fast Pitch Association, but numerous youth sports organizations will be affected by the change.
Some residents worry that the city’s decision to take over scheduling for youth leagues could mean the end of Little League, but that’s not the case, city officials said.
“Little League is not going away,” Gillette City Councilman Shay Lundvall said.
At no point has anyone from the city stated that Little League is going to be disregarded and put off to the side, he said.
“This decision did not come easily,” Davidson’s letter states. “However, based on the demand for use of the fields, the difficulties between clubs and the evolution of these sports within the community, the overall best approach is to manage the fields internally and not on a lease basis.
“This is done with the sole intent of maximizing youth participation in these activities and maximizing the use of these public assets,” Davidson wrote.
There have been discussions as to how the city manages its assets, such as figuring out what the appropriate way should be to manage the fields and facilitate more youth participation across the city, Davidson said.
The two groups would no longer have to pay for leases and utilities, he said. Gillette Little League paid $4,500 a year while Fast Pitch chipped in with $5,200 a year.
“The first thing that has to be kept in mind is that the lease expired. The city didn’t take it away,” Davidson said.
Dalbey Park is a taxpayer-funded facility and “it starts to get difficult when you have a taxpayer-funded facility that is being leased and controlled by one entity,” he said. “That is the spirit in which we’re looking at.”
That explanation isn’t sitting well with the Little League, however.
“My big thing is, we tried to ask for a meeting to try and clear the air,” Leisy said. “I was even going to apologize for any wrongdoing any ex-presidents did or any current officeholders has ever done to the city and to try and start anew.”
Trying to accommodate all
Councilman Bruce Brown said the decision to take over scheduling is a “win for everybody” and was “not meant to be punitive.”
“It’s just a difference in philosophy and everyone gets a fair shot at scheduling their games,” he said.
The City Council has to continue to take an 80,000-foot view of the city and move it in a positive way that it hopes will benefit the majority of the organizations, Lundvall said.
“You’re never going to appease everyone 100% and by no means are we as a city looking at trying to dictate anything,” he said. “I really struggle with that one. I truly don’t think that we’re trying to overreach.
“We’re not going to be a programming organization or get into that business of programming. Little League is not going away. Nothing is going to be different in terms of Little League.”
The city will address its decision not to renew the field leases at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“Come and hear what’s really going on,” Lundvall said. “I think there’s been a narrative out there that’s been misrepresented.”
Leisy wants answers.
“There’s no reason to end a good relationship,” he said.
Through all the arguments, people have lost track of what this is all about, Brown said: the kids.
Deputy County Attorney Carol Seeger has been named the new administrative director for the county.
The Campbell County commissioners had gone through a thorough review and interview process of candidates recruited by Strategy Government Resources. They even had brought two finalists — Elke Doom and Jim Chandler — to town earliers this month for final interviews.
But although the commissioners decided that Doom and Chandler were very qualified, “They just weren’t the right fit for Campbell County,” Commission Chairman Rusty Bell said.
There were originally four finalists, but two of them were hired by other organizations before they could visit Campbell County, Bell said.
Seeger, who has served as legal counsel for the commissioners on civil matters for more than 20 years, did not apply for the position. But she was part of the selection committee and sat in on the interviews.
Commissioners started looking inside the organization after they decided not to go with Doom or Chandler.
“As you go through the process, you see these people that put in from all over the country, and the realization that you might have the best person sitting in the room with you becomes more and more clear,” Bell said.
Seeger was offered the job last week and accepted it.
Deputy County Attorney Jenny Staeben will take Seeger’s spot as the commissioners’ legal counsel. Seeger still will be the lead person on the county’s bankruptcy issues, Bell said.
He added that he expects the transition to be “really seamless.”
“She’s going to sail this ship very well,” said Public Works Director Kevin King, who served as the interim administrative director.
“What she brings to this is something obviously nobody else could bring,” Bell said.
She has more than 20 years of experience with Campbell County, knows the people and has a good relationship with the staff she’s going to be supervising, which is critical, he said.
Seeger fills the position that was left vacant after Robert Palmer retired after working for the county for more than two decades.
The Campbell County School District wants to build a new Little Powder Elementary School and do some major fixing up at Campbell County High School, but it could be a few years before work begins.
The projects will be among the items discussed at Wednesday’s Wyoming School Facility Commission meeting.
A 2016 study done on the Little Powder Elementary School suggested the Campbell County School District look at two remedies: An extensive remodel, which would cost about $3.9 million, or acquire land south of the school site to build another building. The price tag for the latter is $5.4 million. Funding would come from the state.
For the district, building a new school would be the preferred choice so it would not displace students or force them to use modulars or a swing space, said Dennis Holmes, district associate superintendent of instructional support.
There may only be 25 students at the school, but “breaking up the Little Powder community is not what we want to do,” Holmes said.
“They have a strong legacy that we want to continue to support,” he said. “Usually the numbers are closer to 40 and we certainly hope to see those numbers again or higher.”
Fixing up CCHS
The district is also looking at $81 million in work needed at Campbell County High School, which would consist of addressing the roof system, extended windows, doors, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
During the project, students would move to a temporary structure, but it would not be done at once. Students in different classes, like science, would use the space on a rotation, but ultimately the decision over how grades or classes would be split is up to the school’s administrators.
Holmes said he hopes the design phase could start in the next five years.
“I’m hesitant to say school year 2022-23. That would be nice, but I don’t want people to lose hope if something has not begun by 2022,” he said.
The school district also will present its plan to create a study of Cottonwood Elementary School in Wright to determine what work may be needed there.
“I don’t want anyone to think the buildings are uninhabitable, but we’re at a point where these buildings need some remedies,” Holmes said.
The district will provide the state Facilities Commission updates with the hope the projects be recommended in its annual report and budget request, which is sent to the Select Committee on School Facilities and the governor.
After getting input from the committee, the budget portion of the annual report proceeds through a legislative and executive review process where the original funding recommendations may be modified by the governor, the Legislature or both.
Final funding requests are then included in a draft bill and presented to the Legislature for further action. Once approved, the bill is sent to the governor to sign so money can be dispersed to various projects.
The local district missed the deadline for the 2020 budget session and will have to wait at least two years before consideration.
Holmes acknowledged that before it gets to that point, there is plenty of uncertainty over what legislators may do to education funding in the 2020 session, the future of coal revenues and what all of it could mean for the district.
“I think there will always be concerns, but we have an obligation to make sure all of our schools are suitable and comparable to deliver quality education,” Holmes said. “In essence, this is simply the starting point for Campbell County schools, lots of questions to be answered and asked.”