A contract already in place that gives the newly formed Metro Alliance use of up to five soccer fields in the Family Sports Park cannot be changed, the O’Fallon City Council members learned June 7 when they were asked to act on a new professional services agreement and a memorandum of understanding setting field rental fees.
Mayor Herb Roach broke a 7-7 tie in both instances, voting to approve the agreements recently drawn up by City Attorney Todd Fleming.
The mayor said if the council did not approve the documents, the merger would still move forward between the city’s KiXX United Soccer Club and Metro East Legacy FC of Belleville to form Metro Alliance, and the commitments would be upheld because of a binding contract.
“We can’t negotiate,” he said.
Metro Alliance would have priority Monday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m. for field use.
The two clubs worked on a merger for six months. Metro Alliance was expected to draw 800 youths to participate, ranging in age from 5-18. Metro Alliance has had a larger turnout than it anticipated, and tryouts concluded June 9. They will announce player selection and teams June 21.
The city announced the merger and signed a contract April 6. The signature of Tyler Lafferty, Family Sports Park Recreation supervisor, is stamped on the document. He is responsible for field rentals for the soccer, baseball and softball fields.
The city estimates total direct revenue will be $229,400.
Metro Alliance indicated O’Fallon would be its home field. In addition to leasing up to five fields for training, the group has committed to three annual tournaments, three summer camps and additional league games for rentals. Metro Alliance will also use two fields at the Belle-Clair Soccer Park in Belleville.
During recent public meetings, including a June 1 Committee of the Whole and the May 17 and June 7 council meetings, local coaches and residents have expressed concern about inequity in other clubs’ playing time, disparity in rental rates and conflicts of interest within the Parks and Recreation Department.
An internal audit is currently underway in the parks department.
Aldermen seeking more transparency have admitted confusion on a series of events that have resulted in threatened lawsuits, misinformation and youth soccer players caught in a tug-of-war between local sports clubs.
In an effort to create more transparency, Andrew Dallner, acting director of the Parks and Recreation Department, gave updates to the City Council’s Parks and Environment Committee on June 14 regarding the field allocation process and Family Sports Park rental summary.
Dallner said they are working with teams on agreements and should be able to fit requests into the schedule.
“We’ve had conversations with all the teams this past week, and it’s looking really good,” he said. “We have a good relationship with the teams despite what you’ve heard on social media. We’ve known each other for 15 years.”
Alderman Nathan Parchman said after the June 14 meeting that the city staff has worked hard to make it work.
“I’m proud of their efforts. Pending agreements with Gateway Rush and Scott Gallagher, we should have a very good set-up that will benefit the city, citizens and the other clubs,” Parchman said.
Alderman Dan Witt specifically addressed the council’s lack of information and not being given enough time to become familiar with the issue.
“Very little information has been provided in an adequate time frame to review. We received information at the same time at the Committee of the Whole meeting with no time to prepare questions or comments,” Witt said at the June 7 meeting.
Alderman Jessica Lotz argued it should not be a government issue and Alderman Christopher Monroe said policies need to be looked over in committees to make changes.
“It infuriates me to no end,” Monroe said. “We have to make sure we are fair for all residents.”
The Family Sports Park has a soccer complex that includes eight lighted, all-weather synthetic turf soccer fields — one that is a championship soccer arena — and four premium grass fields and two convertible all-weather soccer fields added in spring 2018.
The 200-acre sports and recreation complex also has eight lighted baseball fields, splash pad, pavilions, concessions and a 2.1 mile walking trail.
The state-of-the-art soccer complex, which cost $4.58 million, was part of the Destination O’Fallon proposal in 2016, an economic incentive to attract regional and national tournaments. It was funded by an increase in the city’s hotel/motel tax from 5% to 9%.
The council approved Destination O’Fallon in November 2016, which also included plans for the downtown plaza — now O’Fallon Station.
U.S. Soccer League Championship Tournaments have taken place at the Family Sports Park.
Attorneys send letters about possible legal action
Attorneys representing the regional soccer club Gateway Rush have sent several letters to aldermen about possible legal action.
Joe Reiniger, executive director of Gateway Rush, said they have 400 members, 100 of whom live within the O’Fallon taxing district. He said personal attacks on him and the club have been offensive.
“Soccer has been a huge part of my life. I have a full-time job. I make sure to provide services for the kids,” he said.
Reiniger is a former professional soccer player and coach. He said they have had to fight for every field over the years.
Chris Lashley, executive director of Metro Alliance, said they are an independent club and not affiliated with O’Fallon.
“They do not control the organization, they do not run it. It’s a new club,” he said. “It’s a benefit to the city. We are giving back to Belleville, O’Fallon, Shiloh, Swansea and other communities.”
Memorandum of understanding
The city and Metro Alliance have entered a memorandum of understanding regarding annual rental of fields in the O’Fallon Family Sports Park.
The field rental rate is $60 per hour during high season (September, October, November, February, March, April) and $50 per hour during low season (May, June, July, August, December and January).
This term is for one year and rental rates will be evaluated on a yearly basis.
Field rentals from Metro Alliance will bring in $149,400. An additional $60,000 per year in field rentals for St. Louis Youth Soccer Association (SLYSA) league games is anticipated.
The council vote on June 7 was 7-7, with the mayor breaking the tie with a yes vote.
- YES: Ross Rosenberg, Christopher Monroe, James Campbell, Dennis Muyleart, Jerry Albrecht, Tom Vorce and Jessica Lotz.
- NO: Todd Roach, Stephanie Smallheer, Gwen Randolph, Tom Vorce, Dan Witt, Nathan Parchman and Kevin Hagarty.
Aldermen who dissented found out it didn’t matter what they attempted to amend because any alteration would violate the terms already in place, rendering any action moot.
Alderman questions having a vote at all
Alderman Todd Roach questioned why the council was acting on the resolutions if it was already “a done deal.”
“How is this even possible?” he said on Zoom, as he was out of town. “I don’t understand why we’re voting on it.”
He said questions have been unanswered for years, and he doesn’t feel they are getting full answers now.
He suggested a flat rate of $85 per hour for all clubs during prime dates and $50 during the off-season, but that amendment failed in a 5-9 vote.
Several aldermen supported dividing the fields between soccer clubs but Fleming said an April 6 contract stating Metro Alliance would get five fields could not be changed.
Witt proposed an amendment giving Metro Alliance three, Gateway Rush two and Scott Gallagher two, with an option to rent fields if not in use by the others. That failed in a 3-11 vote.
Professional services agreement
A professional services agreement had Metro Alliance paying $20,000 to the city to act as the registration arm for the club plus the direct cost of special services related to the Active.net website and software registration form. Total revenue is expected to be $24,400.
Because Metro Alliance had to sign up players and the city already had a registration system in place, this agreement was finalized to put teams in place.
The city was to set up all registration services for all club activities, including, but not limited to player, camp and clinic registrations. The agreement is for four years, with the fees and continued service to be evaluated on a yearly basis.
The city will also serve as the office for the director of coaching.
The Katy Cavins Center is also available for up to two coach’s meeting per year, excluding Saturday and Sundays, and one fundraiser event.
Beginning March 1, 2022, and each March 1 thereafter, the city will evaluate the continued service, fees, and as necessary negotiate in good faith the upcoming year’s rates.
The city will set up an easy-to-use interface site for club members to register for all programs created by the club. This will serve as a registration hub that includes office hours for club members to stop in, register and pay fees.
Alderman Roach said he fundamentally has a problem with any government organization at any level giving preferential treatment to one private organization over another.
“If you read Article IV of the March 22 agreement, signed without consulting the council, it says that all recreational soccer teams will be feeder teams for Metro Alliance. What does this mean? And does it not essentially say we ‘City of O’Fallon’ are choosing to support and promote one private organization over another?” he said.
“This isn’t about Metro Alliance or the merger, the Metro Alliance board members, coaches and parents are doing what they think is best for their organization, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for their dedication to youth sports in our community,” Alderman Roach said.
Lotz said when the 2015 council acted on Destination O’Fallon, one of the concerns was local kids would not be a priority and fields would be rented to the highest bidder.
“The matrix put in place worked,” she said.
She said this is a policy decision, but they seek clarity. She supported the resolutions as doing the right thing. She was concerned there was a perception fields were denied “because people don’t like each other.”
City clerk weighs in
City Clerk Jerry Mouser said when he was an alderman (served Ward 3 for 19 years, starting in 1997), no one challenged the park department and let them run the programs.
“They were more qualified. No one challenged it. We didn’t have a problem until 2021. Now we have aldermen who want to pick at things. It’s a financial investment that might be better left to the parks department than guess at something. … You have to pick, pick, pick,” he said.
Parchman said the council was blindsided, and he was upset at what happened without council knowledge.
“It’s been very frustrating. We were not even given a head’s up and this is about millions of dollars in economic development,” he said.
In public comments, several coaches said this matter should be about what is best for the local youths. The programs should focus on the children playing.
Businessman Ryan Holland said he had a serious problem with the council’s actions.
“You are our elected representatives and you are supposed to do what’s best for the citizens of O’Fallon and you are not doing that,” he said.
“I am frustrated, mad. We should have as many clubs as possible using the fields,” he said, commenting the council was weaponizing one organization by supporting it over the others.
Coach Rick Artime of Gateway Rush said hundreds of O’Fallon residents play for their teams, and that by “pushing us out, you will lose revenue.”
Becky Crader, who said she was a teacher and a taxpayer, said parents should be able to choose the club that’s the best fit for their children, and the council should put the best interests of the children first.
Preston Payne, a coach for Gateway Rush, said they are not bullying their way into using the fields, as they have been accused of publicly.
“Don’t kick us out. Not all Metro Alliance players live in O’Fallon. Don’t punish the kids,” he said.