May 30, 2007
In East Hampton: League Prez Cancels Night Games
Every year the town is responsible for testing lights at the playing fields on Pantigo Place in East Hampton and Lyons Field in Montauk to make sure they meet Little League safety standards. And, every year since 2004 when he became president of East Hampton Little League Jerry Larsen received assurance the lights were fine from officials in the East Hampton Town Parks Department.
Last week, he learned they were, in fact, not fine and cancelled night games for the rest of the season. "We've already played seven out of 10 night games on these fields that are by Little League standards unsafe. Thank God no child was hurt," he said Thursday.
Larsen learned of the problem from The Independent. A memo sent to Colleen Maguire of the East Hampton Town Parks and Recreation Department regarding the lighting survey performed by Bronzino Engineering was also sent to the paper last week. Apprised of the report, Larsen said he checked with the department and engineer Robert Bronzino. What he learned made him "very annoyed." Not only did the lights fail this year, they also failed last year, Larsen learned from Bronzino, who refused to comment when contacted by The Independent.
At Town Hall all blame was laid at the feet of former recreation head Rob DiFusco. DiFusco is currently embroiled in a bitter battle with town officials who are looking to fire him. Trouble is, DiFusco was relieved of the task of certifying the lights this season and has spent much of this year suspended from the job. It was Maguire's job. She did not return calls for comment.
Bob Rodgers, head of the department, did. He said the report was received by the department the first week of May. Adjusting the lights to meet safety specs "isn't something you can do in five minutes," he said. An engineer would have to give the town settings for each light and the department would need to borrow a ladder truck from the fire department to do the job.
Both Maguire and Rodgers were criticized by a number of current and former Parks and Recreation Department employees in a recent article in this newspaper. Charges were leveled that both enjoyed patronage appointments, championed by current town board members despite the fact there were more qualified candidates.
Might it not have been a good idea to let Little League know they were playing in unsafe conditions? "I can't answer that," Rodgers said at first. Pressed, he admitted, "In hindsight? Yes."
Supervisor Bill McGintee professed ignorance of the situation when first contacted last Thursday. Later in the day, he was quick to blame DiFusco for the situation, calling him "a liar" for telling Larsen the lights were fine in 2006 and 2005. "He deliberately deceived the President of Little League for two years in a row," the supervisor said. And what of this season? McGintee defended Maguire, calling her a "new employee" who dutifully forwarded the report to Rodgers.
McGintee claimed copies of the report from last year would prove DiFusco lied. Last Thursday he agreed to share the paperwork with The Independent. By Friday afternoon, however, he claimed he was unable to procure the documents because of the pending Memorial Day holiday. Rodgers purportedly read from last year's report sent to DiFusco. He refused a request to view it on Friday, stating he'd need town board approval before he'd allow the documents to be released.
On Friday, McGintee became increasingly irate during questioning about this year's failure to inform Larsen about the situation. Why would Little League even schedule games prior to receiving a green light?, he asked defensively. "If Jerry Larsen was so worried about it, he shouldn't schedule games before the report comes," McGintee charged. Larsen countered, "Little League gets its permit from the town park's department and they approved it." The approval implies conditions at the field were safe, he said.
"I think this year was just an honest mistake," Larsen opined. "They were unfamiliar with the process and it just slipped through the cracks and we're just lucky no one got hurt." And as for the 2005 and 2006 seasons? "All I know is DiFusco told me the lights were good. I was misled," Larsen said.
However, contrary to statements made by Rodgers, McGintee, and Larsen, according to Brad Rosenbury of Musco Sports Lighting, Difusco had the lights inspected on April 5, 2005 and adjusted the following day to conform to Little league standards – before the season began. And he produced documentation to prove it.
"They're lying to you," DiFusco said. He said that each year the lights are surveyed. The wind can throw the lights off and make adjustments necessary. According to DiFusco, when the lights failed, he saw to it that adjustments were made before the night games began. Rodgers and Larsen both said there is no documentation to support the contention. DiFusco has the documentation.
As to this year, DiFusco said of successor Colleen Maguire, "She dropped the ball on the safety of kids in the Town of East Hampton. Why isn't she in trouble, too?"
There are 450 children enrolled in East Hampton Little League. There are 36 teams and over 150 coaches. The season runs through June 22. Angry on Friday, McGintee hinted that if lighting is so controversial, in the future "it may come down to no Little League night games." There won't be any for the rest of the spring season, now that Larsen has pulled the plug. He noted that the schedule for summer league is traditionally "all night games."