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Media Coverage
Sketchy Future For Richmond Kids Program
November 21, 1998



Saturday, November 21, 1998
Section: news
Page: A03
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND The future of a city-sponsored Little League program in North Richmond is up in the air because the City Council has opted not to renew a contract with its manager.

Ken Nelson of Richmond has had a $33,600 annual contract with the city since 1993 to organize the West County Baseball League at the North Richmond ball field.

The council decided Tuesday not to renew the contract for a fifth year amid questions about Nelson's competence to run the league and concerns about the way the contract has been managed by the city.

Nelson says it is political retribution for his participation in a failed recall effort last year against five council members.

All five opposed the contract Tuesday.

Nelson's council opponents say he is not qualified for the job and got the contract because of his connections at City Hall. They say they want to keep the program alive, but it's questionable what role Nelson will play.

"I think that we have to find a way of serving those kids out there," said Councilman Tom Butt, who opposed the contract. "I think that it's absolutely important that we meet that need."

Nelson said he will continue coordinating the program even if he doesn't get a salary from the city.

"I can't let the fact that the city no longer wants to support me stop me from working with those kids," Nelson said.

"(The kids) don't understand why they wouldn't have a baseball program in the community."

Nelson and his supporters say the real issue isn't his performance but his criticism of the five council members who voted to oust former City Manager Floyd Johnson.

"Clearly this was a vote motivated by politics, as the five negative votes came from the so-called infamous five," said George Harris III, an attorney and leader of an attempted recall campaign against council members Butt, Alex Evans, Donna Powers, Nat Bates and Richard Griffin.

"The program generally speaks for itself," Nelson said.

"We had kids out there playing baseball four years in a row. It wasn't until the recall that my competence became an issue."

Games haven't been held at the North Richmond ball field since its grand opening in 1996.

The field was not ready for play until the spring; the plans to use it then were stalled when the council began questioning Nelson's contract. That was in April, about four months after Johnson was ousted.

Advocates for North Richmond's Little League program said the council's decision Tuesday means its unlikely the field will be used soon.

"The kids had hope; now they're losing hope because you people aren't supporting them," said Joe Barrett, chairman of the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council, after the vote.

"Ultimately the kids are the losers," said Mayor Rosemary Corbin, one of the four who voted for the contract.

"When the A's and Lucky's built that field, we agreed to have a league play there. Now I don't know how we're going to do it."

Nelson's council opponents said they now plan to focus on getting the program under the direction of the city's recreation department, with input from existing coaches, volunteers and parents.

"We have not had a successful baseball program in that area since its inception," said Bates, another opponent of the contract.

"(Nelson's) getting the contract had nothing to do with competence," Evans said.

"This was a favor given to him. It was highly inappropriate. His not getting it has to do with his nonperformance of the job."

But some question how successful the city would be in running the program, especially because the recreation department is without a director.

"I don't know if it'll work without Ken," said Anthony Robinson, director of the Project Pride Recreation Center in North Richmond.

"His heart was in it. He was really trying to make it as good as it could be and without a whole bunch of help."