Tempers Flare Over Youth Sports At ITID Meeting

Long-smoldering tensions regarding the future of the Acreage Athletic League and its relationship with the Indian Trail Improvement District flashed to the surface at the Wednesday, May 18 meeting of the ITID Board of Supervisors.

During a session that featured accusations of abuse of power, residents talking over board members, open sniping between supervisors Betty Argue and Joni Martin, and a strong defense of staff by ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson, ITID President Michael Johnson gaveled and gaveled trying to keep order and finding only limited success.

“I don’t understand why the AAL has a monopoly on athletics in our parks,” said Martin at one point. “I think this is something the board needs to have an honest, open discussion about.”

The AAL was founded in 1993 and runs basketball, soccer, tackle football, co-ed and girls flag football, and girls softball in The Acreage.

Argue previously served as president of the ITID board and currently serves as vice president. She has long been seen as a supporter of the nonprofit AAL. She said later she felt “ambushed” by a vocal contingent on hand to support Nomad Mobile Fitness, a for-profit business that has operated in Acreage Community Park since 2014 under a service provider agreement (SPA) with the district.

Nomad owner Chris Harris told the board he felt his business was being singled out for scrutiny by Argue for its support of an alternative youth flag football operation, the Breakthrough Athletic League. Harris and his wife Sam, who was a longtime girls flag football coach at Seminole Ridge High School and former president of the AAL’s girls league, have been instrumental in creating the new nonprofit league that will operate on Palm Beach County School District fields.

The alleged pressure applied to Harris in the form of an implied threat to Nomad’s SPA “is wrong at so many levels,” Martin said. “It’s really despicable.”

Argue asserted that Harris “totally misrepresented our conversation.”

Most of the problem is related to residents not understanding the AAL’s role and the benefits it provides to the community, Argue said. She blamed much of the recent community frustration on the last-minute cancellation of an April 13 informational workshop meant, in part, to address residents’ concerns regarding the AAL.

The meeting was canceled when Hanson and another ITID official could not attend due to deaths in their families.

At the most recent meeting, Argue forcefully told Hanson she wanted the workshop rescheduled.

“I’m done being yelled at,” Hanson responded. “I take direction from the board president on when meetings are scheduled or rescheduled.”

He also said he has been advised by ITID’s attorney that issues with and within the AAL are not something supervisors should be involved in other than as private citizens.

Later, Hanson explained that the board’s only legal oversight of the AAL is in its annual decision whether to renew the organization’s SPA. “The district really has no regulatory authority over the AAL,” he said. “They’re a self-governing entity.”

Hanson said he has not been directed by Johnson to schedule another formal workshop related to the AAL but that it might be possible for his office to facilitate an informal informational meeting between AAL board members and residents.

Martin, who is running this year to retain Seat 3, later said that the whole discussion was reflective of two larger issues facing the board — first, who should be running ITID’s parks, recreation and athletic programs, and second, to what degree should supervisors be involved in district affairs beyond setting policy.

“There’s a lot of overstepping by some board members… involving us in issues we shouldn’t be involved in,” Martin said. “The bottom line is that the board should not be overstepping and interfering in the day-to-day operations of the district.”

In other business:

• The board gave final approval to a $14,885,000 bond issue to implement the R3 road improvement plan. The bond will be paid back over 20 years adding $53 per acre to the tax bill of each ITID landowner, excluding activated ITID units in Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach and Santa Rosa Groves.

The R3 plan, first approved in October 2019, has the goal of paving or placing millings on certain roads that the district has deemed to benefit all residents of The Acreage, with a specific focus of improving access to schools, parks, impoundment areas, ITID facilities and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue facilities.

The project also will add or improve 75 or more speed tables throughout The Acreage in an effort to control “cut-through traffic speeding through,” and especially heavy construction traffic, Hanson has said.

• The board heard from Palm Beach County Engineer & Public Works Director David Ricks about the county’s plans to expand Coconut Blvd. from two to five lanes using an 80-foot right of way.

Based on a mobility plan created by Dr. Kim DeLaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the board continues to seek ways to expand the right of way to 96 feet or 110 feet to allow for tree-lined buffers and medians and multipurpose walkways that could accommodate walkers, bicyclers and equestrians.

“The county doesn’t want to use eminent domain and doesn’t have the money to pay for it anyway,” Hanson said.

One option, he said, would be for homeowners along Coconut to grant a temporary easement during construction, which would include tree-planting and other landscaping. Once the project is finished, homeowners would be responsible for maintaining the landscaping.

Supervisors were united in their opposition to any expansion of Coconut until State Road 7 is extended to Northlake Blvd., fearing Coconut would become the major connector road from 60th Street North to Northlake.

The SR7 extension remains tied up in court and no date has been set for construction on the Coconut Blvd. expansion.

• The board declined to grant permit requests by the Acreage Landowners’ Association to host three information sessions over the summer related to incorporation.