Government MIXED MESSAGES
STAMFORD — The green and gold Katchko & Sons Construction sign was bolted to the bottom of the scoreboard in the Stamford American Little League ballfield for four years.
This month the parks department tore it down.
But the department kept the $8,000 scoreboard, donated by Bob Katchko, owner of the construction company.
The Parks and Recreation Commission said Katchko’s sign violated a rule that prohibits commercial advertising in city parks.
That’s weird, Katchko says, because the broken scoreboard he replaced had another company’s sign on it for years, and half of the chain-link fence surrounding the Vine Road ballfield is hung with advertising banners — Glenbrook Self Storage, Rubino Brothers Scrap Metals, North Stamford Medical Associates, Coalhouse Pizza, and more.
An angry Katchko appeared before the commissioners Thursday night to ask why his company sign was stripped.
“You don’t have enough money to take care of the ballfields or hire more park police, but you have enough to send a crew up there to cut my name out of the scoreboard I donated,” he said. “I took an old scoreboard with an old donor’s name on it and gave them a new scoreboard with our name on it. I don’t know why it’s good for one company but not for another, and I don’t see how the parks department is going to get any sponsors if this is how the commission treats donors.”
The fence banners are allowed because they are removed each fall, when Little League season ends, commission Chairman David Winston said. Katchko’s sign, high up on the scoreboard, remains year-round — a violation of the regulations and of the agreement approved when the commission accepted the donation in 2014, Winston said.
Katchko asked about the previous donor’s company sign, which was posted on the scoreboard for nearly a decade.
It was agreed to by a previous commission, Winston said, and the regulations have since changed.
City Rep. Steven Kolenberg, R- 16, whose district includes the ballfield, asked about a concession stand there.
“Isn’t it operated by a local restaurant chain that advertises itself?” Kolenberg asked.
“That was another pre-existing agreement, as far as I know,” Winston said.
“If we want to continue to have these public-private partnerships to help the parks, doesn’t this send the wrong message to private entities that might want to get involved?” Kolenberg said.
Winston acknowledged the many private donations to the parks, including equipment, installation of irrigation systems and sod, striping of playing fields, drainage repair and other work.
“We understand the value in this economy, when the city has to look at every penny going into the parks,” Winston said. “We don’t discount the value of what’s going on in the parks by volunteers, but we will not have volunteers take ownership of these spaces and do whatever they want in direct opposition of agreements with us.”
Commission member John Rovegno said there are reasons for the rules and they must be enforced equally.
“Others have come in and asked about signage and we’ve refused them. How would this be fair to them?” Rovegno said.
For his $8,000 scoreboard donation, Katchko got “an ad in perpetuity” — a good deal for the money, Rovegno said.
Commissioners said Katchko has been a member of the Stamford American Little League board, and another sign advertising his company is posted on the wall of a dugout.
It’s their job to protect the parks, Rovegno said.
“Citizens don’t like the parks to look like commercial ballfields,” he said.
Besides, the parks department tried for months to get Katchko to comply, but he failed to return calls and notes or show up for meetings, Rovegno said.
So two weeks ago, the parks department took down his sign.
After the meeting, Katchko said he was born and raised in the area around Vine Road. As a boy, he played baseball with Stamford American Little League, and so have his sons, he said.
“The parks commission kind of slapped me in the face. They cut my name out with a saw,” he said. “I own a small business so $8,000 is a lot of money. We fixed drainage at that field for free. We donate to soccer, high school basketball, girls cheerleading. When we bought the new scoreboard, we showed the city a picture of it and it had our name on it and nobody said anything. I don’t get their thought process. Why would a company do it without using their name?”
At the end of the commission meeting, after Katchko left, Winston said members must begin to tighten the policies on advertising.
“It was always cut and dried — no commercial advertising in parks. But there are exceptions all over the place,” he said. “I believe that our sign policy does need to be very seriously reviewed … it needs to be much more specific.”
The commission will discuss it at the next meeting, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at City Hall.
“Commercial signage is going to have a place in almost every park somehow,” Winston said. “I think we do need to look at the reality of the economics today, and how (the parks) budget is simply not going to get any bigger.”
If, say, a large corporation offered to donate $100,000 for a new Cummings Park pavilion with its name on it, should the commission allow it? Would it be OK for Katchko to put a sign on the scoreboard that said, “Donated by the Katchko family,” rather than his company’s name? Should certain advertising signs be allowed year-round?
”There are a lot better ways to handle this dispute than ripping down a sign,” Kolenberg said. “It’s not the way to treat people who donate large sums of money to put up infrastructure that we can’t afford.”