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Tuesday
Jun052012

Cautionary Tale of KickballGate 

ColumbiaCents editorial. It is not written from an unbiased perspective.

In the past I've talked about my efforts to be a fiscal activist. At the end of April I put in a bunch of Freedom of Information Requests with the city. I basically skimmed the Truth in Spending reports and flagged expenses that I deemed questionable. Part of this was to find out exactly what I got when my information request came in.

I came to a check written for $1162.50 from the Recreational Athletics Department. Flipping through the invoice I was shocked. The bill was for referee services for ADULT KICKBALL.

The invoice laid out in detail how on just 2 days the city spent over 1,100 dollars in Beer League Kickball.

In my mind at the time I had my smoking gun. I was already planning my expose' on how I was uncovering waste, fraud and abuse in Columbia. It was easy to find people who agreed at work. After all Columbia has a reputation (deserved or undeserved) for boondoggles and poor spending practices.

Only one guy said it looked reasonable to him. He was a former soccer ref that got paid 25 bucks a game to ref. I quickly dismissed him as crazy since I OBVIOUSLY could not be jumping to conclusions.

Well I did slow my roll enough to want to dig for more facts to present a full story. You know, "Follow the Money."

I contacted both Parks and recreation and the vendor.

The Vendor was a little confused on why I was calling but answered my questions anyways. He explained that each unit was a game and the $46.50 was to cover ref fees, setup turning on lights and his fee in booking the events. Now I had him on record. The invoice showed 25 units total. There was no way that there was actually playing 25 games in 2 days during the week.

I wanted to roll the presses. Still I had to find out the number of games to blow this thing up completely.

Parks and Rec did their best to fuel my conspiracy theories at first. The director refused to talk about the Invoice without the FOI request. I couldn't just bring it to her. I had to have Public Relations send it. This phone tag went on for over a week still not getting an explanation.

Finally I had the bright idea. Just ask for the schedule. Duh. This they happily provided since after all its a kickball schedule.

This was the ahh ha moment at last. Only I found

I was completely and totally wrong!

Turns out they were NOT padding an invoice or spending 100s of dollars on a single kickball game. They indeed had 25 games in 2 days.

The fields and days matched up exactly like they were on the invoice. Digging around I also found that each team has a $300 registration cost. Over a 10 game schedule this has the league paying for all but about $16 dollars a game.

The cost to the city turned out to be very little. For this the were supporting the Mayor's "Let's Move!" Campaign and efficiently using the cities parks instead of just letting them sit idle. It also is a way to encourage people to get out and enjoy their neighborhoods. This has tons of intangibles. It can cut out obesity, promote our park structure and make the surrounding area more community oriented.

It can even positively effect crime rates. After all if people are getting to know their neighbors they are more likely to look out for them. That's pretty much the basis of a community watch organization.

Studies have been done that suggest youth sports can be a factor in reducing the youth crime rate.

In the end I'm glad I got the full story. If I had reported early I would have wasted peoples time from solving real problems in the city. I would have also tainted the reputation for fairness I'm trying to earn.

FOI can be a great tool. You can get a lot of information on what is happening in the city just by looking around the website. It is our responsibility to use the "sunshine" we are granted by the city properly though.

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