Almanac

News - January 26, 2011

Big questions over pool contract

• Why did Menlo Park staff not involve the council before conducting negotiations?

by Sandy Brundage

Plenty of questions remain after the city of Menlo Park disclosed its intention to offer Team Sheeper a new, 10-year contract to privately manage the city's public pools. At the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on Jan. 19, both the public and the commissioners asked city staff for answers.

Main questions

Three main questions need answering, they said:

• What constitutes reasonable pool access for the city's residents as well as members of Team Sheeper's competing swim club, SOLO Aquatics?

• Has SOLO in fact received fewer and fewer hours at the Burgess pools during the five years that Team Sheeper has managed the facility?

• Why did the contract approval process change from the one originally outlined in the city's request for proposals, without public notice?

"I am now told that this process will not be honored," said Robin Stewart, whose 6-year-old daughter swims with SOLO. "How is this acceptable to the City Council? There are rules governing any RFP process and I want to know those rules have been followed."

Even the commissioners were unaware of the change until the Jan. 19 meeting. When requesting proposals in August, staff members initially said they would present their recommended choice of provider to the City Council and let the council decide whether to start negotiations.

But negotiations started in December, and the council has yet to be involved. Council approval is required before the contract goes into effect.

"The result of increasing the opportunities for public involvement was the extension of the process timeline by two months, creating the need to go directly to negotiations so the selected provider has adequate time to gear up for contract implementation," Community Services Director Cherise Brandell told The Almanac.

When asked by the Parks and Recreation Commission about the change, Ms. Brandell explained that Team Sheeper needed several months to hire and train employees to work at the Belle Haven pool, which would fall under his management starting with three months this summer.

However, the commission suggested that Belle Haven could wait, if that meant having more time to make sure the long-term contract benefits the city's residents — not just Team Sheeper.

Hours and rent

The discussion also addressed criteria for awarding the contract. Although SOLO bid $20,000 rent per month to manage the facility, Ms. Brandell said, staff didn't believe the group could meet that commitment after analyzing its financial statements.

The proposed contract has Team Sheeper paying $3,000 a month plus operating costs to manage both the Burgess and Belle Haven pools.

Several SOLO members told the commission that the new contract will kill their program and questioned why anyone would believe a for-profit program like Team Sheeper would let a competing, nonprofit program like SOLO flourish under the same roof.

"Our lane space has been reduced 30 to 40 percent in my estimation over the past five years," said Erin Glanville, whose three children swim with SOLO.

One provision of the contract moves SOLO across town to the Belle Haven pool during the summer. Ms. Glanville called it "utterly outrageous" that the club was singled out for elimination from Burgess during one of the busiest seasons of the year.

Read before acting

Since City Attorney Bill McClure continues to review the contract, the Parks and Recreation Commission did not have a copy at the Jan. 19 meeting.

The commissioners, reluctant to make recommendations for the City Council on a contract they haven't seen, instead voted unanimously to form a subcommittee to review the draft contract as soon as the city provides it, and then hold a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3, to discuss the draft and view a staff presentation on the allotment of pool time for all groups.

Commissioners Kristi Breisch and Nick Naclerio volunteered to serve on the subcommittee.

Meanwhile, negotiations with Team Sheeper continue. "We're getting to a place right now where both (clubs) will be angry with us, and we think that's the right place to be," Ms. Brandell said.

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