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County declines $800,000 check for Palmetto ballfields

MANATEE -- Not many people attempt to give the Manatee County Commission $800,000 -- and are politely turned away.

But that’s what happened Tuesday to Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant.

She stood before the commission ready to fork over the money in an effort to expedite construction of new Little League ballfields in her city, which the county is spearheading.

“I want the public to know that this county commission, the City of Palmetto and the school board are working collectively to get these fields built,” she said.

However, the commission declined the money on the advice of its attorneys, who warned that it should be accompanied by a signed interlocal agreement specifying exactly how the funds would be spent.

Since negotiations were still underway on the agreement, which specifies the financial contributions of each project partner, commissioners chose to stick with their original plan to consider the matter Feb. 21.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get this thing started as quick as possible,” Commission Chairman John Chappie assured the mayor, but added later that despite her effort to hand over money, the county still needed a signed agreement.

Everyone expressed frustration at how long the process has taken, and sympathy for youngsters who have been deprived of their ballfields.

But after a polite but official rebuff, the mayor left in a huff, saying she was “very displeased.”

The situation has been a sore point for more than three years, since construction of the new Palmetto Elementary School displaced the North River American Little League from its ballfields.

Palmetto commissioners voted Monday to provide the county $800,000, plus whatever money a donated piece of school board property fetches when it is sold, officials said.

However, the project planned at Blackstone Park is expected to cost $2 million, and none of the partners has money to make up the shortfall, officials said during the meeting at County Administrative Center.

In other action Tuesday, the commission OK’d a proposal to retain the Tallahassee law firm of Hinkle & Foran and its consortium partners to represent

Manatee County, on a contingency fee basis, against the oil company BP for additional damages the county may be entitled to from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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