Town may fund Little League scoreboard to avoid advertising

Lyons: kids and Coca-Cola don’t mix

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard appears poised to fund an electronic scoreboard for the Community Park Little League field, pulling out the town’s wallet to avoid advertising on the device.

Selectboard members seemed inclined to support the expenditure, which would cost approximately $5,000, pending word from Town Manager Rick McGuire about where the funds will be extracted from the current budget. McGuire indicated finding the money should not be a problem.

The Community Park sits on land owned by the Williston School District, but the town has an agreement with the district to run the facilities. The field where the scoreboard would sit mainly hosts Little League games.

Municipal funding of the scoreboard would allow the Selectboard to grant the Williston Little League’s request for the scoreboard without confronting the question of whether to allow advertising, specifically of Coca-Cola, on the structure. Coca-Cola had approached the Williston Little League about funding the scoreboard in exchange for having a small logo on it.

The town’s zoning ordinances would not allow the scoreboard advertising, but Mike Healey, a member of the Williston Little League Board of Directors, approached the Selectboard this summer and asked it to amend rules for Community Park. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended against the amendment.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons reiterated her opposition Monday night to Coca-Cola advertising on the scoreboard because of the nature of the soft drink, which she had referred to as “empty calories” at an earlier meeting. Lyons said she has worked with some coalitions that found there were “a lot of problems with that kind of advertising.”

“They have a negative effect on kids over time,” Lyons said.

When Lyons said she did not believe there was much support for allowing Coca-Cola on the scoreboard, Healey replied that he believed there was in fact widespread support for it. No one but Healey from the Little League has attended any of the Selectboard discussions to speak on the topic, though he attributed that to his desire to keep the discussion to a low profile.

Selectboard member Andy Mikell has been an outspoken proponent of the plan to allow Coca-Cola to purchase the scoreboard. On Monday, he expressed uneasy support for the new plan to use town money.

Mikell said the Selectboard “would still be ducking the big issue” by not deciding whether it would allow advertising at the field.

Mikell, whose children played Little League and who says he has attended numerous youth baseball games around the area, said most youth fields in the area have scoreboards with advertising from Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

“Every other town on the planet allows this,” Mikell said.

Mikell argued that the town could amend its zoning regulations to allow for the advertising and “save the town $5,000.” Healey agreed, saying it made sense to keep the expenditure, however small, off the property tax rate.

But, in addition to Lyons, Selectboard members Ted Kenney, Terry Macaig and Jeff Fehrs each seemed more inclined to use municipal funds, though there was no vote on the subject.

“Conceptually, I’m not averse to advertising if that’s the only way of getting the scoreboard, but I’d prefer to do it the other way,” Kenney said.

Healey asked the Selectboard if it would be opening Pandora’s box by funding the scoreboard purchase. He noted several other fields in town could use an electronic scoreboard. Earlier in the meeting, Mikell had wondered if other nonprofits would now approach the Selectboard with funding requests.

Kenney said the scoreboard was an isolated decision and “I don’t