The only thing soccer coach presidents from city sponsored teams South Miami United and South MiamiGrey Ghosts agree upon, is the unpleasant effect the rivalry between the two competing bidders has had on the children that play the game.
City Hall was packed with soccer moms, dads and kids decked out in uniforms, holding signs, and cheering for their respective teams during the last city commission meeting when the awarding bid question was on the agenda.
For the past year, continuing management of the current vendor, South Miami United, has been under review. After a formal request for proposal (RFP) bid process where the two groups competed for a three year contract to run the program, a resolution authorizing the city manager to award the contract to South Miami Grey Ghosts was blocked by the city commission by a vote of 4 to 1 (Commissioner Newman in favor). Mayor Philip Stoddard called in his vote. The majority chose not to proceed with their evaluation selection committee’s decision where the Grey Ghosts just barely beat out the South Miami United proposal.
“What the city did was unexplainable,” said Grey Ghosts President Javier Rodriguez. “I am shocked and saddened. We were hopeful the RFP process would be honored.” The Grey Ghosts anticipate filing a lawsuit against the city’s decision.
“There was never a motion or resolution to reject the manager’s proposal,” said attorney for the Grey Ghosts (and Virginia Gardens city attorney) José “Pepe” Herrera. “There was never a motion to disqualify the Grey Ghosts. I cannot find anything to say the Grey Ghosts were not the best and most qualified proposal for the city. This converts the city commission’s actions to arbitrary and capricious.”
Commissioners could not agree on the default status of current operator South Miami United after the vote. Their contract was set to expire imminently according to Rodriguez. “If you do not choose the Grey Ghosts you must vote to resubmit South Miami United,” said Commissioner Valerie Newman. “If we don’t accept the RFP we will be dealing with the existing group,” said Commissioner Walter Harris.
Vice Mayor Josh Liebman said in a subsequent interview that he anticipates South Miami United will be granted a one year extension renewal and another RFP process will begin again after that. “Our decision was based on wanting the best soccer program for South Miami, not just the highest bidder,” said Liebman.
“They (South Miami United) built this program and have about 500 participants and the Grey Ghosts have 24. I didn’t feel they could build the program without giving them (South Miami United) another chance and disappointing the families and kids.”
Commissioner Newman’s contention (and that of the Grey Ghosts leadership) is that the operator should not affect the kids. She likened it to a pool operator, saying that kids can still play in the pool no matter who is managing the facility. Newman also believes there is a conflict of interest because two of the top managers of South Miami United served on the Parks and Recreation Board in the recent past.
President of South Miami United, Pat Flood, (who has since resigned from the Parks and Rec Board) concedes that his relationship with the city’s Parks and Recreation department has not always been amicable. Apparently they objected to staff’s decision to allow the Grey Ghosts (who formed their own team after management differences with South Miami United in 2010) to play on a city field at Palmer Park.
“I don’t know how we got painted as the bad guys,” said Flood. “We have had a contentious relationship with parks and rec but we understand we have to get along.” When Caesar Garcia was Parks and Recreation Director, he asked Flood and his team to manage the program.
Eventually they became the official vendor and were even given keys to the city and a special day in their honor. However that was several city managers and parks and recreation directors ago and the playing field has changed since then.
South Miami United kids and their parents are clearly passionate about the game as demonstrated by the huge crowds they brought to city hall during the various meetings when the bid was discussed. Most parents’ complaints regarding Grey Ghosts leadership is that it was ineffective. Kids also went to the dais to encourage the commissioners to retain South Miami United.
The Grey Ghosts suggest South Miami United has done no community outreach nor offered scholarships to allow area kids to join the travel team. They fault them for exceedingly small numbers of resident kid participation and not addressing neighbors’ complaints about noise and late night lights.
Flood says the team has reached out to the area although “there was never a specif- ic incentive to seek out South Miami residents; they are just as able to sign up for a program as kids from Pinecrest or the Grove,” he said. Out of 335 kids from spring registration, 24 were from South Miami. Flood also said that South Miami Park, where South Miami United plays, is actually in area code 33155, unincorporated Miami-Dade.
When asked if Flood would consider reconciling with the Grey Ghosts and working their differences out together in the spirit of good sportsmanship he said “the board would want to control the process and determine team and coach selection.” He was therefore uncertain if any reconciliation was possible but added that Javier Rodriguez and the Grey Ghosts are good people and many of the families attend the same church and school.
“This has been a painful drawn out process,” said Flood. “We have been through hell and back. This has been bad for the community and bad for soccer.”