Civic pride clashed with public responsibility Tuesday night as the City Council considered a donation request from the Lemon Grove Little League for funds the organization needs to meet its operating expenses.
And while council members did not vote down the proposal, league officials hoping for help found themselves at odds with a council majority concerned with using public money to assist the group.
The league, whose senior division team became local heroes over the summer as they battled their way from regional tournaments to the World Series in Bangor, Maine, is having trouble paying its bills after scrambling to cover the costs of the championship season.
According to Art Martinez, LGLL past-president, travel expenses left the league without enough funds to pay for utilities, equipment, field supplies, and uniforms in the coming year. There is an immediate need for money to cover an $1,800 water bill for the Nichals Street field where the teams practice and play.
Martinez made the request for $4,000 to refurbish the league’s savings in an Aug. 21 letter to Councilman Howard Cook.
In addressing the council, Martinez explained there was little time to fundraise in the week between the Senior League All-Star’s taking the Western title and team members, coaches and parents leaving for the World Series.
“The kids needed their parents with them, traveling so far away,” Martinez said. “Some of the parents were fortunate to be with them.”
For those who were less fortunate, “Little League stepped up to help them out,” he said. “It depleted our savings.”
Cook strongly supported the idea. Remaining council members were opposed, citing a concern over the use of tax-payer monies.
“This is really a terrible place to be,” Councilman Jerry Jones said. “I don’t mean to belittle or take away from the accomplishment, but as an elected official and a custodian of the public money, I have a responsibility.”
Jones urged league officials to bring back a retooled request that details the organization's expenses.
Mayor Mary Sessom agreed the proposal needed changes, but could be brought back for another look.
“Tell us what you need and why you need it,” she said. She also asked the league to report on their fundraising efforts and offered to help them secure business donors.
“Come back with a plan that says what you can’t do,” she said. “We don’t know what that $4,000 represents. We just need a plan.”
Councilwoman Mary England was not in favor of the request as it was proposed.
“It’s not about the $4,000,” England said.“I believe in my heart we should do this the way we’ve done it with other groups. There’s a process in place so we don’t look like we’re cherry picking who gets the money.”
Afterward, Martinez expressed the league's disappointment.
“I came and asked from my heart,” he said. “I didn’t sit there and bring a 10-page deal to get it all figured out.”
Time worked against the league, Martinez said, as the team advanced toward the World Series.
“I needed money right now. I didn’t need it next week, I needed it now,” he said. “The games weren’t going to stop because we didn’t have money.”
Despite their frustrations, league officials promised they'd be back in front of the City Council with a revised request.
“We’ll take their suggestions,” Alicia Martinez said. “We’re not going to give up. We’re not giving up. We’ll write down our budget and come back with the things they requested we do.”