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Oxford board, committee meet to resolve issues/Workshop devolves into accusations, support
STANDING ROOM ONLY — More than 50 people attended a selectboard workshop on Tuesday evening, many to show their support for recreation committee member Gary Smith. Smith has been publicly accused by parents of acting inappropriately at a youth baseball game. Attendees said people had come from as far away as Skowhegan and Waterville to attend the meeting and show Smith their support.
OXFORD — A Tuesday workshop for Oxford Selectmen, to learn more about Oxford's recreation programs and the fund raising that supports them, was attended by more than 50 people, many of whom voiced support for recreation committee member Gary Smith, who was publicly accused of acting inappropriately at a youth baseball game at the June 21 selectmen's meeting.
The central topic of the meeting, at least for the selectmen, was determining the precise relationship between the Oxford Recreation Committee and the Oxford Baseball/Softball Association (OBSA).
There has recently been tension between the two groups related to fund raising and the delineation of responsibility between them.
Many of the people at the meeting, however, wanted to discuss what they considered the spurious allegations made against Smith, whose term on the committee ended June 30. He is up for reappointement by the board of selectmen at its next meeting.
Former recreation committee member Sharon Jackson told the board that she and other committee members set up OBSA in 1992 as an auxiliary fund raising organization for the recreation committee.
Since that time, she told the board, the group has raised approximately $100,000 for youth baseball and softball in Oxford, including a scholarship program for graduating seniors who have come up through the program.
Jackson said she was unaware of any bylaws governing OBSA's responsibilities.
Joe Rideout, a former OBSA president, told the board OBSA bylaws were drawn up two years ago and the group is now a recognized 501 c (3) nonprofit organization.
Current members of OBSA attending the workshop produced a copy of the group's current bylaws for the selectmen.
Rideout said OBSA had independently designed the bylaws without informing the recreation committee or the board of selectmen.
Smith expressed his concern that OBSA had not brought the bylaws to the attention of the recreation committee.
"I kinda picture us [the recreation committee] as being the lead group in recreation," Smith said, "and it looks like we've got a sub-group that's doing their own thing and not sharing that with us."
Rideout admitted that it was a possibility that OBSA should have brought the bylaws in front of selectmen, but denied that, as a separate entity, the group had any responsibility to inform the recreation committee to the changes.
Town Manager Michael Chammings said the bylaws almost completely dealt with fund raising and he didn't believe OBSA had wavered too far from its original intent, but may have gotten away from the recreation committee to some extent.
Smith responded that he believed the recreation committee was being shut out of OBSA.
"We feel like we're being locked out of what they're doing and we shouldn't be," he told the board.
"We are the governing body, whether they like it or not, for recreation in the town of Oxford and we should be involved in decision making they're doing."
Rideout said that it was never the intention to turn the issue into a power struggle.
"I don't think anybody on the committee wants this to turn into a match between rec. and OBSA," he told the board. "That's not what we intended to come to this meeting for."
Another member of OBSA said when the group was organized its members were all recreation committee members as well.
With the addition of new OBSA members, he explained, the group drifted away from the recreation committee.
Pam Lovely, the committee chairwoman and one of the original OBSA organizers, told the board that when she and Smith handed OBSA off to new members, the duties and responsibilities of the group were clearly laid out.
"When we decided to get out we made sure that people understood what we did and also said 'what we did you don't have to do,'" Lovely explained.
"I don't think there is a control issue, that we want to control what they want to do; we would just like to be part of what they do because they represent recreation whether they know that or not."
Chammings told the two groups that clearer communication and more cooperation could help them implement more efficient fund raising efforts.
He said that he thought the workshop had already opened lines of communication even though disagreements remained.
Although the meeting was intended to address the relationship between OBSA and the recreation committee, it became a venue for some very personal accusations and counter-accusations between several members of the audience including Smith and Rideout despite efforts by the selectmen and town manager to maintain the meeting's focus.
Several attending the meeting expressed the opinion that the entire episode had gotten out of hand and was damaging to the town and the youth sports program.
Others stated that the board of selectmen should never have allowed the group of parents who attended the June 21 selectboard meeting make the accusations against Smith.
A number of people voiced their full support for Smith, praising his many years of service to the town as a member of the recreation committee and his passionate dedication to youth sports.
Allocades for Smith sparked applause from a majority of the crowd several times during the meeting.
Chammings told the group the board never intended for the workshop to address the allegations made against Smith.
"Gary earlier asked about bringing this up and I told Gary I wasn't going to open that door," Chammings said.
"I told him if he wanted to do that that was him opening that door," Chammings continued. "Now we're ending up with a 15, 20-minute conversation that's just putting down other people."
"We're starting out with a positive meeting and we're ending up bickering back and forth."
"Everyone here is here because of the kids and the ball fields and we're not even talking about ball fields and these ball programs anymore, we got way away from that."
The meeting ended with a standing ovation for Smith in recognition of his many years of service to the town of Oxford.