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Keizer officials clear path for right-wing extremists in bid for nearly $1 million in public funding
City Council moves to help Walker family to buy turf, new lights with state capital request
At an unusually long & busy City Council meeting on April 17th, Keizer City officials included at the very end another helping hand to local extremists and longtime city business partner.
In fact, it appears from documents included with the City Council meeting agenda that both local and state officials have been hand holding the Walker family - the same crew who brought christofascist carnival Reawaken America to Keizer in early 2022 - through the process of securing $850,000 in public funding for improvements to benefit their private company.
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Sports Enterprise, Inc., the company that Jerry & Lisa Walker own (locals know it generally as Volcanoes Stadium), approached Keizer officials to solicit a “capital funding request” - a sort of official letter suggesting the state allocate money for Walker’s private improvements.
Explicit support from the city is needed to allow State Senator Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) to more successfully advance a capital funding request to the state legislature on behalf of the Walkers’ company. Legislators across Oregon submit these capital funding requests as sort of a wishlist of things to pack into the state budget. It’s political pork.
Documents show both Thatcher’s office and Keizer assisting the Walkers towards public funding to cover less than half of the nearly $2 million in improvements to their private business.
In what seemed to be a display of shifting considerations, earlier in the night (on a separate matter) Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark objected to the City Council injecting its influence into the board of a non-profit seeking to do business with the city.**
The objection around interfering with private entities seemed to melt away when the council later considered the plan to back the Walkers on their way to nabbing public funds for new LED lights and replacing their grass baseball field with artificial turf - a nearly $2 million project.
In this case, Clark favored injecting the City into the dealings of a private, for profit company with the reasoning that municipalities partner with private industry all the time, often with mutual benefit.
The solitary example cited as precedent for this maneuver was the Oregon State Legislature approving millions in public funds in 2022 for the Eugene Emeralds to build a large multi-use facility in Lane County.
But the two projects are really only similar in that both companies run baseball teams - otherwise they bear so little resemblance that it’s difficult to honestly use Eugene as a precedent for Keizer’s actions.
For one, the Emeralds were committing $10 million of their own money. And the new facility in Lane County would serve a wide swath of the community, rather than just the extremely narrow segment that would use a renovated Volcanoes Stadium.
And, perhaps most significantly, the Emeralds (and Lane County) had an entirely practical reason to push for a new facility. They are actually associated with Major League Baseball and their old stadium would need significant changes to keep pace with MLB changes. The Walkers and their baseball operation used to be affiliated with MLB, but lost that affiliation.
Not only that, but the economic impact of the Eugene Emeralds funding would be significant for Lane County. While the revenue impact for Keizer residents would be nominal, at best.
Keizer’s piece of the “mutual benefit” is tiny, and only incrementally impacted by the stadium improvements
Improving the Walker’s private facility would theoretically increase revenue for the city, as Keizer leases the land to the Walkers for their baseball business (among other events they host, including extremist political rallies and religious gatherings). According to city council records, Keizer revenue is generated from a percentage of parking fees and ticket sales (or gate fees).
During the April 17th City Council meeting, Keizer City Manager Adam Brown indicated that the lease agreement with the Walkers earned the city about $30,000 in lease payment last year. And he cautioned city councilors that the millions in planned improvements to lighting and turf would only increase that already nominal revenue by just 5% to 20% (or around $1,500 to $6,000 in additional revenue).
That either indicates an egregiously favorable lease agreement between Keizer officials and the Walker family for the leased public land. Or it indicates the improvements aren’t really going to do much to spur growth.
Thus, it would appear an inefficient use of public funds.
Either way, it doesn’t sound great. Does it?
**Fun quiz: Who sits on the board of the non-profit seeking to build a $10 million sports dome for Keizer youth sports? Mickey Walker, CEO of his parents baseball/religion/events company. So weird, right?
Ultimately, all Keizer City Councilors voted to back this effort to further enrich the Walker family and their business…except one.
The newest elected member Keizer City Councilor, Robert Husseman, said very little during the discussion of this move to support the Walker’s stadium upgrades - and quickly voiced his “no” vote.
Upon passage, Keizer officials were expected to submit the funding request to Thatcher’s office by the deadline on the following day, April 18th.
You can watch the discussion and passage of this capital funding request at the end of the April 17th City Council meeting here.
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