Some say well-connected soccer clubs hog taxpayer-funded fields

Some say well-connected soccer clubs hog taxpayer-funded fields »Play Video

A turf war is being waged at a local park district.

Coaches and parents say a soccer club with ties to the Timbers and to a district board member controls the soccer fields.

They say that leaves their kids on the sidelines even as the park district collects their taxes to pay for those fields.

The Westside Timbers recently practiced for the upcoming tournament season on one of Tualatin Hills Park District's synthetic turf fields – a brand new field at the MLS Timber’s exclusive practice facility.

The club, formally known as Westside Metros, was founded by Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle who collected a paycheck of $45,890 from Westside even while he was in the mayor's office.

Bill Kanable is on the Tualatin Hills Parks Board and helps schedule who gets to play on the district's fields.

He's also the field coordinator for the teams in the Westside soccer clubs, which is something that doesn't sit well with other soccer clubs in the district.

"These are huge conflicts of interest that anyone can see," said Paul Blackmore, president of Aloha United Soccer, which is another club in the district. "So we have a privileged few who are politically connected getting all of the access to the field. Meanwhile, the rest of us are told to go away."

He says thousands of kids from Tualatin Hills are denied field time while a few hundred youth soccer players from Kanable's teams and one other club get unfettered access.

"They are heartless. They don't give a damn," Blackmore said. "They have been denying us and the other clubs for eight years - essentially lying to us."

The dispute is over Tualatin Hills seven synthetic turf fields. When it rains hard, as it often does eight months out of the year, the park district's general manager, Doug Menke, says the natural grass fields are closed to limit damage. That leaves only the synthetic fields open.

"It's almost a management tool by which you go about protecting the resource for all the public," Menke said. "We don't have enough synthetic surface fields to supply the 7,000 recreational kids.”

Laura Bourn says the only teams being protected are the Westside Timbers and another youth soccer program named Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club.

"It seems very biased," she said.

Despite living in the district, her child, who plays youth soccer, is often left without a field to play on.

Through decade-long contracts, Westside and Tualatin Hills United locked up the rights to use or designate the "soccer-playing" time on synthetic fields. They pay $7 per hour for the fields, which is the same rate other teams pay on the rare occasions they get to play on the synthetic turf.

The district says they can’t void the contracts because they are binding contracts. Menke says the district's attorney assures him there is no conflict of interest.

"I'm comfortable that we are managing the public's resource as efficiently as we can," he said.

He admits the synthetic fields get almost four times as much playing time as the natural grass because they drain well and are playable during heavy rains. But that leaves thousands of young soccer players watching from the sidelines while the region's premiere competitive youth teams play on.

Parents and coaches want the district to re-evaluate the issue and provide equal playing time to every soccer club and not just those with ties to people in power.

"It's called sharing, and especially when it's tax paid money," said Blackmore. "Not one club gets 85 percent of the fields, the other club gets 15 and the rest of you are told to go find your own way."

Bourn said, "It should be providing a good chance for everybody in the district to play, and there's tons of kids out there who want to play soccer."

Menke says three new fields should be ready to play on soon, and he says the district is also re-evaluating how field time is divided up. But he admits the pressures for field time will likely continue to grow as soccer grows.