Work by Las Vegas city officials to help the son of Nevada’s most powerful politician secure exclusive use of scarce city soccer fields for tournaments has rival footballers crying foul.
The deal, which is yet to be finalized, would upend the city’s longtime approach in doling out access to soccer facilities and give a soccer group led by Key Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, premium dates for a “college showcase and junior event” tournament in the spring.
City officials have quietly negotiated the changes directly with Reid, breaking with longstanding practice of letting the Nevada Youth Soccer Association assign tournament dates on city fields.
“I think the city was influenced,” said Pam Calhoun, president of Nevada Youth Soccer Association. “I think they felt pressure.”
In addition to being the son of one of the country’s most influential politicians, Reid played on a University of Virgina national championship team and was coached by Bruce Arena, now the coach of the professional Los Angeles Galaxy team.
Reid is also an attorney in private practice who at one time worked for developer Chris Milam on a failed attempt to attract a professional soccer team to an arena and stadium complex Milam wanted to build with City of Henderson endorsement on low-cost land from the Bureau of Land Management.
Reid is now the first vice president of the nonprofit Southern Nevada Soccer Association, which boasts more than 6,500 participants in its ranks. He also is a coach with the competitive Heat FC, which is part of the association and is seeking to host the Las Vegas Invitational that, according to its website, would be open to teams of boys and girls from younger than age 9 to younger than age 19.
Nevada Youth Soccer Association has about 12,000 participants statewide. For years the city has depended on the organization to oversee use of municipal fields.
Reid, deputy city manager Scott Adams and officials from the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department have been in negotiations for months even as they excluded Nevada State Youth Soccer officials who unsuccessfully sought insight into the deal-making, according to emails obtained from the city under the state open records law.
When contacted by the Review-Journal on Wednesday Reid declined comment but referred to a statement from Southern Nevada Soccer Association President David Merrill.
The statement says Reid’s group went directly to the city because the organization “feared retribution” from the Nevada Youth Soccer Association and “will no longer sit on the sidelines and let NYSA use its control over City of Las Vegas fields to bully the clubs and leagues into towing (sic) the party line.”
City officials also accused Nevada Youth Soccer of being unwilling to agree to changing how tournaments are operated to improve accountability and increase city revenue.
City Manager Betsy Fretwell said the city years ago outsourced tournament assignment duties to Nevada Youth Soccer because it seemed to have the knowledge and credibility needed to balance competing interests of tournament organizers vying for limited play fields and game days.
But that credibility was questioned, Fretwell said, after the soccer association appeared to favor itself and its board members.
“Things change when you start allocating to yourself and they change when the board members are the ones getting the allocations,” Fretwell said.
She said the pending agreement with Reid’s group includes a more favorable fee structure for the city and audit provisions city officials hope will be a model for future deals.
“We are hoping to use this agreement for every tournament agreement we authorize,” Fretwell said.
But Nevada Youth Soccer officials said they have long been willing to work with the city to revise procedures and suspect city officials put protocol and critical thinking aside because they were influenced by Reid’s connections.
“Maybe they are doing what they believe is right because they believe everything they have been told,” Calhoun said. “Why did this go so far? Because of who it is they are giving it a lot more credence and not vetting all the information.”
Emails obtained by the newspaper show city officials worked hard since May to accommodate Reid’s request to reserve two city soccer complexes for a March 7-9 tournament date while simultaneously brushing off Nevada Youth Soccer officials.
City workers expressed concern that if word of their efforts to accommodate Reid became public it would result in others seeking similar deals for themselves.
A May 23 email from Lonny Zimmerman, deputy director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, to Adams discussed working with consultant Damon Cobb to craft a field allocation policy geared to the needs of Reid’s Heat FC organization.
“One idea would be to having (sic) two additional weekends for open bid, although doing this free market approach does not guarantee Key’s organization gets the weekend,” Zimmerman wrote. “The other idea would be to explore developing specific criteria that limits the types of leagues that could apply, but I’m not sure at this point if Key’s organization is unique or specialized enough to be attainable.”
The email went on to acknowledge the risk.
“Unfortunately, bending the policy to assure we can accommodate Key will open the flood gates for everyone else when Key’s organization advertises what they got,” Zimmerman wrote.
Even as officials were working with Reid to arrange a tournament they were fending off Nevada Youth Soccer officials.
On July 31 Nevada Youth Soccer Executive Director Angie Eliason emailed Zimmerman, asking for an update on “any efforts on the part of the Heat FC (or any of its representatives) to secure tournament dates.”
City officials delayed answering while they rehearsed Zimmerman’s response. On Aug. 7 Stephen Harsin, director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, sought approval from Adams for “the response Lonny plans to send back to Angie.
“when (sic) Lonny gets back we probably need to round table on this and next steps,” Harsin wrote.
In the proposed response Zimmerman apologized for the delay, saying he was out of town with his hospitalized mother. Two more weeks passed before Eliason was sent an email on Aug. 22 saying Zimmerman had been swamped with work after returning to the office and would answer her question soon. All the while, emails indicate, the city was involving Reid in reworking their management plan.
Eliason said in an interview that she sensed city officials weren’t completely forthcoming in their dealings with her organization.
“I couldn’t get any sort of explanation back to me. I think I was just being put off,” she said. “The responses to my request were very vague.”
Asked about city officials’ apparent unwillingness to deal directly with Nevada Youth Soccer, Fretwell said “I can’t speak for why there was a lack of responsiveness.”
The emails also show city officials knew changes to city policies could have a negative impact on Nevada Youth Soccer but didn’t want to broach the subject directly.
“I do wonder if NYSA will survive the change as their revenue stream and span of control will decrease so significantly without being the permitting body that league play could take a significant hit, but no way to gauge that without asking and I don’t even want to broach the subject with them,” Zimmerman wrote on May 23 to Adams, with cc’s to Harsin and Fretwell.
The dustup over soccer fields comes as the city is seeking a broad overhaul of the way it does business in the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department.
In September, the City Council approved a resolution directing staff to improve cost-recovery numbers. According to a consultant’s report, the city’s cost recovery average for all department services was about 28.3 percent, well below the national average of 50 percent.
Fretwell said revising tournament practices is just one small part of improving the entire department.
“We have to do things slightly differently than we have done in the past,” she said. “That is what this is.”
Contact Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenSpillman702.