By Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet commissioners voted last week to deny funding to the Mt. Juliet League, which provides the city’s youth sports, and Commissioner Art Giles feels some are treating him as an enemy of local youth sports for his stance on the issue.

In debating the finer points of what Vice Mayor James Maness called an “unorthodox” ordinance to fund new lighting for the Mt. Juliet League’s baseball and softball park, Commissioner Ray Justice sparred with Giles to an extent that exploited the backlash Giles had already incurred via social media.

“Let me just state if I may so that Facebook can light up again,” Giles said as the board neared a vote, “I am not against” Mt. Juliet League Inc.

“We presented you with a budget; you know that the money is there, and it’s obvious that we can pay it back,” Justice said. “You said, ‘OK, if you meet certain items here, this won’t be a problem. We’ll get it through.’ We’ve had obviously certain things come up tonight that are different from that, and those have been resolved, I feel like, in a decent manner. So, I mean, what you’re saying now is — like I said, I mean, it’s obvious where you’re at, and it’s obvious that you have no love for the ballpark.”

This was met with sweeping gasps from constituents in attendance at the public hearing. Giles could be heard raising his voice over them in response to Justice’s accusation.

“Ray, don’t make a statement like that!” Giles demanded. “Listen to people. I’m not gonna sit up here — no! I do have love for the ballpark. My kids played over there. I contribute to them, so don’t make a comment on what I feel on it just because I want to vote because the city said and my constituents say.”

Maness interceded to stop the spar between commissioners, quieting the board and ushering it to a vote on whether to defer until Jan. 21. The vote to defer was ultimately affirmative, allowing the board to adjourn for the evening after discussing the issue for just under an hour.

Mt. Juliet League Inc. has been vying for new lighting for over a decade now. The ordinance proposed aimed to loan the league $450,000 at 0 % interest to be paid back in 10 years. It acknowledged the city already giving the league $15,000 annually, and league representative Toni Rayburn explained that, to her knowledge, the league will need to be creative in fundraising if it receives this loan.

“We have bids that were north of $2 million, right?” Rayburn said. “So we’ve done very well of making sure that we’ve got the right contractor and the right solution for the park to make sure that we can keep those lights on. Sustaining a maintenance bill of $49,000 a year for lights and lighting is just not something we can do, right? So we’ve got to find something we can do.”

The rate of repayment discussed by commissioners was $45,000 per year. The vote to fund it would certainly have failed had they taken it that night since it required three affirmative votes as both Giles and Maness had already said they couldn’t vote in favor as is. Mayor Ed Hagerty was absent from proceedings, and Justice was legally compelled to recuse himself from the vote due to being a board member for the league.

“It’s not that I am against any kind of athletic programs for youth. My boys — both my boys — played over there,” Giles clarified. “And one of the things we talked about in our workshop was that, as you just saw, we settled a suit for $593,000. We’ve got a fire department that’s going to be built — a new one, and it’s going to take a million dollars to fund just the staff for that, and we need that. And I’ve had several people say and tell me, constituent-wise and otherwise, that we’re not in the banking business. And so, it’s very hard. It’s not that I’m not supportive of them.”