There comes a time in every city government reporter's life when he heads home from a lengthy municipal meeting and says to himself (perhaps not entirely in jest): There has to be another way. In other words, representative government is not the prettiest form of rule that we've dreamed up as a thinking, social species — and the more you spectate, the less pretty it gets.
You would be hard pressed to get nine people to agree on which type of latté to order at Main Street Coffee — or even three of them to agree on the milk to mix: skim, whole, soy, part, almond, powdered, none. Fat chance then getting those same nine to come to a tidy conclusion about a complex city issue. In fact, you can almost count on that issue becoming more and more complex before it eventually was hashed out and resolved.
But that's just how it goes. Unless you want a dictatorship... and even then you've still got bureaucrats.
Take the relocation of the youth football program out of Dwyer Stadium — its home for 32 years — into a city park: a non-issue that was vaulted to priority status when Red Wings management came to the city a few weeks back and sort of said that they would not pay for the costly repairs to the turf each year that would be required as a result of football cleats gouging the grass. Toute suite, City Manager Jason Molino put together a cost comparison between relocating the program to Austin Park or Kibbe Park. He recommended moving to Austin at a cost of about $19,000, rather than Kibbe, which would cost more like $61,000. See our earlier post for the full details.
Well, quite quickly it was quite clear that the issue was not so simple.
About every member of Council seemed to have a different take. Some argued for moving to Kibbe Park. Others argued for Austin Park. Some wondered if the real issue was the cost of the move. Others wanted to know if the program could wait one year or if they had to relocate right now. Some thought the Red Wings management said they wanted youth football gone without delay. Others swore that the management was an enthusiastic supporter.
Councilman Bill Cox recommended lifting and hauling the bleachers from Dwyer to Austin for football season, taking a torch to the scoreboard posts and hauling that over, too — and doing it all for about $1,000, not $16,000, he said.
Council President Charlie Mallow was utterly and unabashedly opposed to any solution that did not involve the immediate expulsion of youth football from Dwyer Stadium and spending the least amount of money possible relocating it somewhere else. Although he urged that he was a supporter of youth football, he just couldn't see spending so much time and money on something that lasted eight weeks and was over. Quote: "What are we really talking about here? What are we prima donnas?"
One question that was never really answered, mostly because several Council members had several diametrically opposed answers to it, was whether one more season of youth football would damage the field so much that it would cost $15,000 to fix for the next Muckdogs season; or was $15,000 more accurate for a repair of many years of field damage and not just one eight-week season.
In the end though, Ben Bonarigo put it quite simply. (Bonarigo is a member of the youth football program's board of directors.) City Council, he said, gave the youth football program its word that they could stay at Dwyer Stadium for one more year, then relocate. Fine. If that was understood, the program wanted to move to Kibbe Park. It just made more sense for them. And if the Council had a problem spending so much money — no problem, youth football would do the fundraising to make sure that the move to Kibbe would be no more costly for the city than the move to Austin.
That was actually prior to Council's discussion that raged on for a good hour and got a few hackles raised, along with a few voices.
Council President Charlie Mallow said that the decision to allow youth football to stay another year was made as part of an informal conference meeting, and it was done as a straw poll. Therefore, it was not official. Council members Rose Mary Christian and Frank Ferrando didn't care much for that, and they said so. Then a couple of them yelled so. But that went nowhere.
In fact, not much of anything went anywhere.
As Mallow himself said: "Where are we going? We're going around in a circle."
Or City Attorney George Van Nest: "The discussion has ranged far and wide." (It should be noted that Van Nest's statement had a bit of an ironic twang to it, since he followed the declaration by offering his own take on what the real issue was, taking everything farther and wider.)
Mallow repeatedly urged Council to just wrap things up before the whole thing erupted in one big overblown argument.
So... Where do we stand? Where does youth football stand? Nowhere. Everywhere.
At the end of the rigamarole, a motion by Frank Ferrando was pushed through that would put a vote on the next business meeting agenda to declare that youth football can remain at Dwyer Stadium for one more year — and one more year only — before they have to relocate. In other words, Council will vote to maintain a situation that already exists. You could see that Van Nest got a kick out of that. Me too.