Viewpoint - September 14, 2011

EDITORIAL: Public notification still city's Achilles' heel

An incident that went unreported for nearly a month at Menlo Park's Burgess Pool again raises the issue of how the pool operator and the city handle such important information.

Only after an Almanac inquiry did Community Services Director Cherise Brandell address questions about an Aug. 12 incident when a swimmer reported encountering a gas bubble in the pool and was taken to hospital.

According to Ms. Brandell, an extensive investigation of the pool's mechanical equipment within hours of the incident found no leaks. The engineering firm that designed the pool's systems, which were replaced after a gas leak last year, said it would be virtually impossible for such a bubble to occur, she said.

But the pool operator, Menlo Swim and Sport, said the investigation is still ongoing. So in the end, it's unclear what happened at the pool on Aug. 12.

What is clear is that neither the city nor the private operator had any intention of notifying the public about the incident. Ms. Brandell said "...we determined this was not a 'newsworthy' event."

We couldn't disagree more. In our view, the city and operator failed on several counts, including:

• Not following up with the victim to try and understand more about her condition and the incident.

• Stating that an oversight committee was participating in the ongoing investigation, without naming the members. Apparently it's composed of city staff from the public works and community services department, as well as Menlo Swim and Sport employees.

• Not notifying the public, preferably the same day, with an explanation of what happened and the results of the equipment examination to say the pool was working properly and safe to use.

Every incident of this nature, whether with or without merit, should be shared with the public via a routine announcement, as should the existence and composition of any oversight committee participating in an investigation at a public facility.

Covering up an incident only foments misunderstanding and suspicion, a lesson the city has yet to learn despite repeated opportunities to do so. It will doubtless have the chance to do so again in the future.


Posted by Long Time Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Chlorine gas is an extremely harmful gas if inhaled. Chlorine gas causes severe burns on delicate lung tissue and creates severe scar tissue to develop. One doesn't inhale chlorine gas and then get released from the hospital. Before this paper casts stones, they may want to investigate the story with a little more vigor.

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