Cook suggests rescinding town’s MOU for ball fields

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

With still no final word on a MOU sent to Isle of Wight County by the town of Smithfield in April, Smithfield Town Council member Dr. Milton Cook wants to rescind it, and let county officials get back to them whenever they get ready.

The Memorandum of Understanding concerns financial contributions the county promised to put toward the Joseph Luter Jr. sports complex in the total amount of $250,000, to be paid out in installments of $50,000 annually over five years.

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The document, drafted by the town, limits the county to using the fields only to when they are not already being used by the Smithfield Recreation Association (SRA), a nonprofit poised to manage the maintenance of a majority of the fields, which has pledged $300,000 to the project, which has also not yet been paid.

Noting that it’s been two months and appears that the county will not sign the agreement, Cook made a motion to take the MOU back at the June 6 Town Council meeting. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“I saw no need to keep an open MOU out there,” Cook clarified in an email after the meeting. “When [the county has] agreed on a MOU amongst themselves then they can send it to us for consideration.”

Cook said that his motion, which failed to receive a second, in no way indicates that he doesn’t want the county’s promised financial contribution for the project.

“We are not waiting on their MOU to move ahead with the project,” said Cook. “That can be seen by the progress at the sight.”

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors have expressed concerns about the seemingly restricted availability of the fields, which the town had outlined in the MOU and its plans for the site.

At the Town Council meeting, held June 6, Cook questioned Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice about the status of the proposed MOU. Grice responded that the Board had formed a committee to work on the language.

“There were some questions about the availability of the park,” Grice said to Cook.

“Availability for whom?” said Cook.

“For the county,” replied Grice.

Cook asked if Grice was aware of the financial percentage the county is providing for the fields, which is about 6 percent of the roughly $4 million project.

“I’ve not necessarily looked at the percentages, I’m looking at it as a community investment,” said Grice. “The county has agreed to be part of that investment, so that everybody wins.”

Toward the end of the meeting, after Grice had exited, Cook said he took from Grice’s answer that the Board of Supervisors was not going to sign the proposed MOU, but instead was creating a new one on its own.

“I don’t understand why we need to have ours standing for them,” said Cook. “They’re not going to sign it, so why is it out there? So I think we can pull that back, because they’re obviously not going to sign it.”

Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams said during the meeting that Isle of Wight County Parks and Recreation Director David Smith is working with Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Amy Musick to come to an agreement on the MOU’s language.

“They’re very, very close,” Williams said of their progress toward an agreement, but noted that he understands where Cook is coming from.

Still, Cook made a motion that the Council rescind the proposed MOU.

“If no one seconds, that’s fine with me,” said Cook. “That’s how I feel.”

No one seconded and the motion died.

“I tried,” said Cook.

Musick said that the county has a subcommittee looking at the MOU, which she said would like to meet with the Council’s committee.

Vice Mayor Andrew Gregory joked that he would like to vote that Cook not be on that committee.

Gregory then spoke in support of what he said had Cook “all fired up.”

“It seems like [the county is] asking for usage that is probably commensurate with someone who is paying for half the project and is also going to contribute toward any maintenance, which they are not offering to do,” Gregory said, noting the county’s 6 percent contribution to overall fund the endeavor. “I don’t see any of that as, at least, reasonable on its base, unless I hear differently.”

Gregory said he does want the county to be a partner in the project, but that the town should keep in perspective the county’s contribution versus what it’s asking for.

“The more things we work together on, and continue to build on what’s been a, I think, better relationship over the last couple of years, I think is worth fighting for,” said Gregory.

In a later phone conversation, Grice said the county is worried about the availability of fields for Pop Warner and that Isle of Wight also wants to be a participant in the endeavor.

Grice also questioned SRA’s exclusive hold on the concession stand.

What if there is a tournament in the middle of the week and SRA is not able to run the concession stand, Grice said.

“Those are the types of questions we have and they’re reasonable,” Grice said, adding, “Mr. Cook is a little impatient.”

“Mr. Cook seems to think something special is owed to them for giving them money,” he said.

Grice pointed out that Smith has experience in running such a facility and while the county is not proposing he run it, it is offering his expertise.

Smithfield Foods donated $1 million to the project after its former CEO, Joe Luter III, donated $2 million. The town purchased the land for the fields at $775,000 and Farmers Bank is chipping in $175,000.

SRA has pledged $300,000, which its president, Chris Kennedy, has stated would be funded through the sale of the organization’s current field, Beale Park.

Smithfield Times Managing Editor Diana McFarland contributed to this report.  {/mprestriction}