TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - As of Monday night, the Palestine City Council has closed the city’s athletic complex immediately.
The complex is home to youth baseball, softball and football leagues.
“We’ve been practicing at the athletic complex for the past couple weeks,” said Carey McKinney, the president of the Anderson County Football League, “since August 31, and we had sign-ups for a few weeks before that.”
City council members decided to immediately close the complex due to pending litigation.
“At this point in time it’s for the level of expenses that the city has tied to it,” said Leslie Cloer, the Palestine city manager. “We realize the frustration and I’m very disappointed. It’s with heavy hearts our council members had to make this decision last night, but at this point in time, that’s the decision we have to make as a part of this pending litigation.”
The lawsuit against the city is in reference to the complex not being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Over the years, the city did not do the work to bring it into compliance,” said Cloer. “It’s a large volume of issues that would be a high cost to the city that, at this point in time, we can’t stomach or afford the total cost of repairs to bring the entire complex into ADA compliance.”
According to the lawyers of the person filing the lawsuit, they’ve been trying to work with the city for over a year on the ADA issues.
In a press release, they said their client initially made contact about the issue in August of 2018.
The full text follows:
For Immediate Release
Re: ADA Claim – Palestine Athletic Complex (Palestine Parks & Recreation Dept. – City of Palestine) 128 Armory Road, Palestine, Texas 75802 [DM File No. 1743-005]
Mr. Ivy is deeply saddened to learn of the City of Palestine’s decision to shut down the Palestine Athletic Complex due to costs associated with bringing the Complex into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“the ADA”). Mr. Ivy made multiple attempts to work with the City to bring the Complex into compliance with the ADA prior to filing the present lawsuit:
• On August 14, 2018, Mr. Ivy, with the assistance of counsel, filed an informal Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice seeking mediation to create a timetable of remediation.
• On August 21, 2018, counsel for Mr. Ivy sent a certified letter to the City of Palestine requesting the City be willing to discuss possible plans to bring the Complex into compliance with the ADA.
• On September 21, 2018, counsel for Mr. Ivy received correspondence from the Department of Justice that they did not have the resources at the time to assist Mr. Ivy’s pursuit.
The City does not dispute receiving Mr. Ivy’s August 21, 2018 letter, and the City discussed possible renovations to the Complex as reflected in the City’s minutes for the meeting on January 8, 2019. The City ignored Mr. Ivy’s request to discuss his concerns with the Complex presuit. Neither Mr. Ivy nor his counsel received any response from the City for over nine (9) months, and Mr. Ivy was eventually forced to file his lawsuit against the City on May 31, 2019.
As late as September 6, 2019, counsel for Mr. Ivy spoke with counsel for the City prior to the City’s decision to shut down the complex and discussed a willingness to work with the City and create a possible plan, spanning multiple years, over which the City could incrementally bring the Complex into compliance with the ADA. It does not appear the City made any attempt to determine the costs associated with potentially bringing the Complex into compliance with the ADA over any prolonged time span and simply decided to shut down the Complex completely.
As Mr. Ivy is not entitled to recover monetary damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mr. Ivy’s sole objective remains to work with the City to bring the Complex into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, both for himself and for other individuals with disabilities who, like Mr. Ivy, simply wish to be able to watch their children or grandchildren play ball. Mr. Ivy does not agree with or support the decision of the City to shut down the Complex. Mr. Ivy would simply ask the City re-consider its decision to close the Complex and discuss possible options to allow all individuals, including those with disabilities, equal access to the Complex’s facilities.
Cordially, MICHAEL IVY
By His Attorneys, DunbarMonroe, PLLC Christopher G. Dunnells, Esq.
McKinney says the city council meeting agenda did not provide enough information to the public about the lawsuit and what the council was considering.
“They didn’t give the public notice in that agenda that they were going to consider closing the complex,” said McKinney. “Under the open meetings act, if it’s a topic more important to the public, then their notice has to be more specific so at least we know whats going on and at least we have a chance to have some input in the process.”
McKinney said he tried to get in touch with city representatives all day to hear why they made the decision.
“At this point, nobody has contacted me or given me any kind of written notice or anything,” said McKinney. “They need to take all the stuff down off their website about being transparent, about open government, about communication, about working together — because all of those things have failed at this point.”
He says he hopes action will be taken so the kids can play their current season, but the city manager says, at this point, their hands are tied.
“We’re in the process of refunding money to the groups that were scheduled to play this fall," said Cloer. “We’re working on coordinating with their administrators and team managers for alternate opportunities.”
Cloer said the city council is working on scheduling a public meeting for some time next week to discuss the complex’s closing and she also urged the community to be wary of donating to fundraisers in the meantime — saying any funds for constructions or repairs in the future will have to come from the city.