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Hatch alleges Friday Night Lights misled city

City CEO says popular youth sports program wrote a letter that got it out of $50,000 in fees.

March 28, 2014|By Bradley Zint
  • A group of boys with Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights, a flag football program, practice on a recent afternoon at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.
A group of boys with Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Officials with a popular flag football program allegedly made misstatements to the city of Costa Mesa to avoid paying nearly $50,000 in fees to use a public field, according to allegations contained in a confidential city memo reviewed by the Daily Pilot.

City CEO Tom Hatch contends in the Feb. 18 memo that Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights owes taxpayers back payment for its use of the city-owned Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex.

In the memo addressed to the City Council, Police Chief Tom Gazsi and high-ranking administrators, Hatch asserts that former municipal Recreation Manager Bob Knapp granted Friday Night Lights its fee waiver based on a "likely fraudulent" letter written by President Mark Broersma of Orange County Youth Sports Assn., which operates the youth football league.

"I believe Bob Knapp knew that the letter was not accurate," Hatch wrote in the memo, "and he did not investigate it further to help his friend" — a reference to Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights Commissioner Scott Mahaffy.

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In an interview, Knapp strongly denied knowing the letter's credibility was in question when he received and accepted it to waive the fees certain leagues are required to pay. In addition, Friday Night Lights officials said they did not mislead the city and, since the memo was written, have repaid $10,000 and are working with the city to settle the matter.

At issue is whether Friday Night Lights officials are compensated for their work. All-volunteer, nonprofit leagues can qualify for waivers that let them use city fields for free.

Hatch, in his memo and in a follow-up interview, argued that Friday Night Lights provides compensation to some staff members that would negate its ability to use fields without charge.

In the letter that Friday Night Lights provided to Knapp — which the Pilot reviewed — Broersma wrote that Mahaffy "does not receive financial compensation from the profits" of the K-8 football league — a statement strongly disputed by Hatch.

In a follow-up interview, Broersma said his organization is a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that Mahaffy "is a compensated employee of Orange County Youth Sports Assn."

When asked to clarify the apparent contradiction between his statement and the claim in the Friday Night Lights letter that Mahaffy does not receive compensation, Broersma declined additional comment.

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