BLUE EARTH - Blue Earth City Council on Monday approved swapping land with the Faribault County Fair Board in a split vote after a contentious debate.
The city gives 2.66 acres, including the grandstand and go-kart track, to the fair board in exchange for 1.8 acres surrounding the Green Giant statue.
The issue was put to a roll call vote three times in various ways, with council members coming down on the same sides.
On the motion to swap one parcel of land for the other, Councilman Glenn Gaylord offered an amendment to have the city reserve a section for a ball field.
"Once we give it away, we can't get it back," he reasoned.
Voting to retain the section were Gaylord, along with council members Rick Scholtes and Allen Aukes. Voting no were John Huisman, Russ Erichsrud and John Gartzke. Mayor Rob Hammond broke the tie with a no vote to defeat the amendment.
Then Gaylord tried to get the issue tabled until next month; the vote went the same.
With the original motion finally up, the split was the same, with Gaylord, Scholtes and Aukes voting no, while Huisman, Erichsrud and Gartzke voted yes, leaving Hammond to break the tie with a yes vote to approve the swap.
But the issue may return.
Dan Brod, a former councilman who won election in November and will be sworn in come January, asked about submitting a petition to challenge the vote.
The petition must be signed by a number of people equaling 10 percent of the number of voters in the last election, or 250 voters, whichever is greater, said City Administrator Kathy Bailey.
Brod asked if it had to be submitted before the land swap took effect in 30 days, but City Attorney David Frundt said it could be submitted any time.
Can enough signatures be gathered?
The council room was filled with people who support using land north of the grandstand for another ball field, including two young ballplayers.
Carter Bell, a fifth-grader, petitioned the council for another field, while Matthew Meier, 13, said only one existing field is large enough for his age group's practices and that they sit around for hours waiting for it to be available.
"Please give the baseball association a chance to build a field," Meier said.
Adults were just as impassioned in their pleas.
Resident Sue Scholtes reminded the council it isn't just baseball in a bind over fields. Her co-ed softball team needs larger fields because some of her teammates can hit it over the fence at the high school, and there are too many older kids and adults vying for the same fields.
She said a ball field could fit where the go-kart track was, because it was a ball field before the go-kart track was built. Resident Rayne Hanevik agreed, pointing out that when the go-kart track was built, the council at that time made a promise: "We were told it if didn't work out, we'd get our diamond back."
"It was promised to go back if it didn't work out as a go-kart track," recalled Gaylord.
"[But] a previous council cannot bind a future council," Gartzke noted.
"These kids need things to do," said resident Brenda Smith. "We got the pool, that was great. We need more recreational opportunities. We have a lot of fields, but we're missing that middle level."
"Six diamonds sounds like a lot, but it's not," Brod said, "We do not have enough facilities for all the teams at the same time."
Tournaments bring in people that stay overnight and through the weekend, Brod pointed out.
"Give them (the baseball association) time to raise the money," Brod said. "You would not take away a thing from the fair board.