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Kansas county spends $350K of COVID-19 relief money on cameras for soccer park, sparking backlash

The Hill logo The Hill 10/24/2020 Morgan Gstalter
a group of people playing football on a field: People's feet kick around a soccer ball © Getty Images People's feet kick around a soccer ball

A city council in Kansas is facing backlash over a plan to allocate $350,000 in federal coronavirus relief aid to purchase cameras for a local soccer complex.

The Overland Park City Council this week voted 10-2 to purchase cameras and video equipment to broadcast games at Scheels Soccer Complex, The Kansas City Star reported.

According to the proposal, Overland Park will grant Musco Sports Lighting the license to stream the games on its platform, giving the city 70 percent of the revenue generated from people paying to watch or download them.

Officials reportedly argued that streaming the games online would help stem the spread of the coronavirus because it would prevent crowds of spectators from gathering.

Faris Farassati was one of the two council members who voted against the purchase, along with Scott Hamblin. They called it an inappropriate use of federal funds, according to the outlet.

During the city council meeting, where residents shared their concerns, Farassati was reportedly met with applause when he condemned the motion.

"When we look at the CARES Act and where this country is going with the economy, people are losing jobs. People are not able to pay rent. People are not able to pay utilities. I personally do not find it necessary to buy a bunch of expensive cameras to essentially make money," Farassati said, according to the Star.

Other council members defended the proposal.

"This is an appropriate program," Councilman Chris Newlin, who voted for the plan, told local affiliate Fox 4. "We followed the rules. We filled out an application, and we asked for this."

Newlin, who is also a soccer coach at the complex, according to the outlet, said he has not seen regular social distancing at games.

"The parents are right there next to each other," Newlin told the network. "Yes, they have masks on, but they're not social distancing."

Maury Thompson, the deputy county manager, reportedly said that county officials had determined Overland Park's requested funding for the soccer complex was eligible for funding from the CARES Act that Congress passed in March.

"In my professional opinion and that of our national consultant who is consulting with the [U.S.] Treasury, this is clearly an allowable expense," Thompson said this week, the Star reported. "I understand the concerns, but this is clearly an allowable, eligible expense."

However, Thompson reportedly acknowledged that "we were not aware this was a soccer complex installation."

Documents obtained by the newspaper showed that Overland Park requested $350,000 for "video broadcasting platform" expenses but did not mention it would be used for sports or for the soccer complex.

"Live broadcasting is an effective strategy to protect staff, players and our community, including those at an elevated risk of COVID-19, while allowing operations to maintain healthy operational conditions," the application stated.

Farassati and Hamblin said they are asking the city council to rescind the vote approving the funding.

Overall, Overland Park has been approved by the county to obtained more than $2.5 million in funding from the CARES Act. The $350,000 for the soccer complex cameras is the second-most expensive item on the list, according to documents provided to the Star.

The most expensive allocation was an estimated $455,000 for software and technology for emergency management operations.

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