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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Southgate Officials Blast Social Media “Frenzy” for Loss of Ball Field Opportunity

Southgate Mayor Jim Hamberg said an online "feeding frenzy" caused Newport Central Catholic to rescind an offer to upgrade the city ballpark in exchange for its use as the school's home field.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Southgate city council, Mayor Jim Hamberg cited public response on Facebook as the reason Newport Central Catholic (NCC) High School rescinded its proposal to upgrade the Southgate ballfield in exchange for allowing the school to call the field home.

Calling it an online "feeding frenzy," the mayor said he was ashamed of residents whose posts on a private Facebook page contained "falsehoods, accusations, cynicism, innuendos and flat-out misstatements" that created an acrimonious atmosphere leading to the school’s decision to rescind their offer.

The council meeting was held in person, as well as online to allow access for anyone to come and hear the school’s revised proposal and to voice their opinions, he said. Yet, the school withdrew the offer before the meeting.

The mayor recounted events leading up to the meeting and noted both council and community concerns and ideas. He also noted he appointed a committee that included council members Joe Anderson and Paul Melville and Chief of Police John Christmann, who had experience as a baseball coach at McMicken High School in Cincinnati, as well as two representatives from NCC. Later in the process, he added two members from the city’s Park and Tree board. 

RELATED: Newport Central Catholic Rescinds Southgate Baseball Field Proposal

The plan for the February council meeting was to hear the presentation again from NCC, gather additional citizen input and make a decision. Yet, officials never got the opportunity to vote on the matter. Posts on social media, especially on the weekend before the meeting, caused the school to back out not wanting to cause any more division in the community, he said.

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Council members also received anonymous letters of complaint and someone circulated an unsigned flyer within the community accusing the city of already having an agreement with the school and for not being transparent. The mayor denied all these accusations.

"There were accusations that tonight was for show and that an agreement had already been reached. Let me say this much. We could not have been more transparent with open meetings and members of the committee that I established. There are four of us who graduated from Newport Central sitting on this city council. But, you do not know how any of the four of us would vote. You assumed how we would vote," he said. "This is very embarrassing for our city. We not only lost the opportunity. We lost our integrity."

The mayor thanked Newport Central Catholic for considering the city of Southgate. "It’s not every day this type of opportunity is brought to our fine city, and we thank you for your professionalism and cooperation as you went through the arduous proposal process with us for city council and our citizens," he said. 

He went on to thank council and committee members and “those who wrote and sent emails and called me or council members to express your opinions in a professional and civil manner. I appreciate your communication and communication of this type more than you know.”

Council member Anderson, who had been on the committee to explore the NCC proposal, also expressed anger and dismay over the tone of discussion around the proposal. 

Southgate council members Joe Anderson, Mark Messmer and Pat Hayley discuss the recent loss of Newport Central Catholic proposal.

"I’ve been a resident of Southgate for 26 years, and on Saturday, January 30, I wanted to sell my house and move out of Southgate. As I reflect on the comments over email and on the Southgate Facebook page, I could not believe how a ball field for the kids had totally divided our city. I love a good debate, but what I saw on Facebook was not a debate. It was us against them. It is neither us nor them. It is a community. It is about the kids, all kids," he said.

Hamberg concluded, "In the future, I hope that you will think before you write, call or decide to send an email. Hoping you do so in a professional manner. I would think that you would want this and expect this in your own personal and business life. That’s all I have to say. As far as I’m concerned this matter is closed."

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