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I did not intend to enter into a war of words with Mayor Phil Burch with my letter to the editor published last Sunday, June 26. I expected him to retaliate, which he did, but I did not expect him to put words in my mouth that I simply did not say.

Let me clarify a few comments made by Mayor Phil Burch (printed in the June 29 issue) in his response to my letter. I did NOT criticize the mayor or the council for not approving a request made my Paul Lopez, owner of SuperPride Athletics. In fact, in my letter I specifically stated that I understood the fact that city leaders have an obligation to do their due diligence regarding the use of city-owned parks. I did, however, criticize the mayor for his word choice in describing Coach Lopez as “someone unknown to this community.” I did not mention the city council at all – I simply shared my thoughts on the mayor’s comments.

When I wrote my original letter to the editor, I was not acting as a reporter, but rather as a citizen who saw something I didn’t agree with and felt moved to address it. It was not my place to attend the meeting and write down every comment made and fact alleged. I simply wrote my letter based off a story published in the Daily Press, and they did have someone in attendance, taking notes. But if the mayor wants me to act as a reporter, then that’s what I will do:

Based off emails and additional information I obtained in researching the matter, prior to the meeting in question, Coach Paul Lopez did, in fact, obtain a $1 million liability insurance policy out-of-pocket to the tune of $357 plus a $10 credit card fee — $367 total. He obtained this policy after speaking with the mayor’s assistant, who informed him of the necessary step. After obtaining the policy, Coach Lopez forwarded the policy (which the Daily Press has on record) back to the mayor’s assistant prior to the city council meeting in which a decision was to be made. She acknowledged receiving the policy and stated she would “forward it to the city clerk for approval,” and then commented that, “Hopefully the council will still approve the request.” In his rebuttal letter, Mayor Burch said “the request did not include proof of insurance (a requirement when using city property).” So either his assistant and the city clerk did not pass the document along to the mayor and council, or they did and for some reason he did not see it. Or perhaps they did not receive it in a timely enough manner… I don’t know the answer to that part of the equation, so it would simply be speculation on my part (note: the last council meeting minutes readily available on the city’s website were from April 2016). Whatever the “reason” given, records indicate Coach Lopez, did, in fact, provide proof of insurance well before the meeting.

In speaking with Coach Lopez, he indicated he also spoke with the city clerk several times prior to the meeting. During said conversations, Coach Lopez explained his intent with the camps, outlined his training and credentials and made it clear that he has run similar camps in the past. Lopez said it appeared to fall on deaf ears because it “didn’t seem like he cared.” The city clerk, it turns out, was in attendance at the meeting yet chose not to speak publicly about the matter. So the mayor is correct in his statement: “no city staff member in attendance indicated knowing the individual or spoke in support of the request.”

The last point I will address is the fact that Coach Lopez did not attend the meeting to clarify the situation. During my time at the Daily Press, I sat through countless city council meetings in which people requested use of the parks for birthday parties, family reunions, public events and so forth, and I can say with certainty that most people making said requests were not in attendance. And it does not appear that city leaders expected him to attend either based off the same set of emails from the mayor’s assistant in which she said, “please contact Mr. Aubrey Hobson at 575-746-2122 to get final word of the council’s actions on your request.” If Coach Lopez was at the meeting there would have been no need to contact anyone later to find out the outcome. Would it have been beneficial for Coach Lopez to attend? Apparently so. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I did not call for the mayor to apologize and I did not say the council did not do its job. That was an unfair blow landed by the mayor in his rebuttal letter. I simply stated that I “wanted to assure the community that Coach Lopez is not an ‘outsider’ or a creepy man swooping in to lure our kids with a paid speed and agility camp.” I made it clear that that was my only intent; and I stand by my comments. I will not apologize either for expressing my opinions and I will not sit idly by and let the mayor or anyone else put words in my mouth or make false allegations.

Staci Guy