Ballpark squabble: Renovation efforts lead to tension and calls for new approach

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

    The Old Orchard Beach Town Council will discuss how to manage The Ballpark after Town Manager Jack Turcotte called its current management structure “dysfunctional.”
    In a Jan. 26 letter to town councilors, Turcotte said dealing with ballpark issues “has been very challenging for me due to its lack of structure.” He said councilors need to decide how they want the town-owned facility to be managed as volunteer renovation efforts continue.
    Volunteers have worked for the past year to renovate the facility, which fell into disrepair while it sat empty. The Ballpark will host a college baseball tournament in May and town officials see the facility as a potential source of revenue for the town.
    Turcotte wrote in the letter to councilors that he receives direction about The Ballpark from several volunteers who are “self appointed in charge.” He said some involved with the restoration want to continue an all-volunteer approach without additional town money, while others want a more formal structure for the project with financial support from the town. Those two philosophies are in conflict with each other, he said.
    “Often I am used as a middle person being manipulated to support one of the philosophical sides,” he said.
    Turcotte wrote he is “often declared incompetent and unable to provide necessary leadership to restore The Ballpark” and received “serious critical verbal abuse” from Town Councilor Robin Dayton. He recounted a Jan. 24 incident where he said Dayton became “very agitated” during a phone conversation and told Turcotte he should go to “Town Manager School so I could learn to be a leader.”
    Turcotte said the incident with Dayton came a day after he did not answer a phone call from her after work hours. He said he had already discussed the facility at length earlier in the day.
    Dayton said Turcotte’s letter is full of “significant false statements.” She said the town manager asked her to put together a fee structure and she was calling him to fulfill the request. Turcotte chose not to answer her phone call, so she called him back the next day to talk about the fee structure and several other issues, she said.
    In the letter, Turcotte told councilors he will not discuss The Ballpark with volunteers and will direct them to Town Council Chairman Sharri MacDonald. He said he will not respond to individual councilors regarding the facility until a council-supported management structure is in place.
    Turcotte wrote he refused to be treated unprofessionally by councilors, though he said Monday the exchange with Dayton was an isolated incident.
    “If this continues, I will simply make my appointment as town manager a very short assignment. I pledge to do my job and follow the direction of the full council,” he wrote. “I cannot continue to support this dysfunctional method of accomplishing the restoration of The Ballpark which, in my opinion, is one of the most exciting opportunities in Old Orchard Beach since God created the beach.”
    Dayton, who said she doesn’t want “negative publicity” for the town, questions why Turcotte feels a more structured management system is needed. Turcotte knew dealing with the facility was part of his job and had “months to figure it out” since arriving at town hall in October, she said.
    “He needs to make independent decisions. He’s here to manage the town and The Ballpark is part of the town,” she said. “I hope we didn’t hire a manager who needs to be told what to do.”
    MacDonald disagreed with Dayton about Turcotte’s role in the park. She said Turcotte “has been doing his best to make decisions” about the park even with no management structure in place. She said the council would discuss management of the park at a workshop Tuesday night, after the Courier’s press deadline.  
    Turcotte said Monday his letter to councilors was written partly out of frustration, not anger. The letter was not intended to take issue with specific people, but to alert  councilors to the need for more structured management at the facility, he said.
    Volunteers have done a “remarkable job” restoring the park and there is no question the project will be a success, Turcotte said. He said the need to look at management is normal in the course of growth and development.
    “As we reach the crunch time of finishing it up and we approach wondering how we’re going to run it, there hasn’t been any direction from the council,” he said.
    Turcotte said it is essential for the council to determine a fee structure and booking process as the town receives calls about booking events at the facility. Other issues that need to be addressed include who will sign contracts and arrange for services.
Ballpark issues are currently handled by the Ballpark Committee, which is under the Conservation Committee. MacDonald said it is likely the Ballpark Committee will begin reporting directly to the council.
    MacDonald said volunteers have done a great job revitalizing the park for both visitors and residents, but now need “ a little bit of help with the structure.”
    “We need to figure out a way to help the volunteer effort,” she said. “We need to make sure it does stay successful.”    

    Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 213.


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