7:06: Underway with a short agenda. Should be a quick meeting. Pools should be the one dominant issue tonight–councilors didn’t know until moments ago that a City Manager’s report on the pools would be on the final agenda.
7:09: Rosen – fresh off an announcement he is sticking with running for City Council, not School Committee – wants an official notice on “whether or not plastic grocery bags and other plastic items, such as the wrappings around cases of bottled water, are permitted in their weekly recycle containers.”
7:12: Councilor Rushton wants to know the exact date when the City Manager will name the Task Force to look into the equitable real estate tax rate. “It’s gone on too long,” says Rushton, saying the task force has been called for and promised several times, including this past November.
7:15: City Manager Michael O’Brien says that the timing has been hindered by several crises and staff cuts, but calls the task force a “priority.”
“We’ve got a budget crisis at hand, and we continue to focus our energies there…and economic development.”
And, he says, there’s the task force being assembled for the new public health plan.
He says the tax task force will be appointed some time after the new fiscal year.
Rushton says it’s been over two years since the group was first called for.
O’Brien says it’ll be appointed by July 29th.
7:18: Clancy says the council gets the final vote on the tax rate, regardless of what a commission says. He states he’ll never support a shift, and will continue supporting the lowest residential rate.
Rushton says it’s about a long term shift.
Clancy again. This is becoming a back and forth about tax policy.
He says he wants to ensure the task force has both sides represented.
Lukes assures him it will.
7:25: Report on the pools, taken as a last minute item. We haven’t seen this yet, so we’re going on what Commissioner Bob Moylan says.
“This report was concluded just today; I apologize it got to you so late,” says Moylan.
Moylan says “the pools will not be open this year, for two distinct reasons.”
Essentially, they are in bad condition, not in compliant with federal law and would still be deficient even if they were compliant.
“We have document upon document noting the deficiencies of these pools.”
“We cannot in good conscience…tell you that they’re safe.”
7:27: The other main reason, says Moylan, is that the department financially just can’t handle the added pressure of pools right now.
AND, the pools haven’t had the regular prep work this spring. “It’s always been our contention that the pools this year were not going to be open.”
7:29: Activist Kevin Ksen. “It’s really hard to listen..” He references City Manager Michael O’Brien’s statement from a couple months ago about having an “honest conversation” about the pools; saying he “can’t reconcile” those remarks with Moylan’s comments that there was never an intention to open the pools.
He calls the report an “idealogical” discussion of why we shouldn’t open pools, highlighting one passage referencing their demolition as a near necessity.
A passionate Ksen references several efforts by councilors that are now being essentially cut.
“Just a year ago…[a pool report] said we’re going to take care of drains.”
Last year, he says, only four pools required drains…this year they all do…he doesn’t get it.
“At every turn, there are walls.”
He says it goes back to the desire from some people for spray parks.
7:33: O’Brien says the pools are the victim of 40 years of non-investment and a serious conversation is still needed.
“Until that decision is made…we’ve hit that juncture where we say we cannot open the pools.”
It’s only compounded by the dire fiscal situation, he says, going through department by department, saying he always hears the same message: “You can’t touch those Mr. Manager.”
7:37: He decries the claim that his office is “mean spirited” or that there’s some “undercurrent.”
7:38: The plan for this summer, sans pools, is to open 4 beaches; the state will open beaches, and a new pool at Vernon Hill.
O’Brien says that he has met with non-profits about opening up pools for public use, but that they will need additional staff, structure, and cost support, in addition to set schedules and transportation help.
He says that by next Tuesday, he’ll be able to confirm about 5 more pools open at various times for public use.
7:43: O’Brien says he expects the “alternative” plan to cost $200,000; he says he’s already outreached to groups to help it happen…he’s also accepting the various offers of public fundraising.
7:46: O’Brien wants the council’s initial endorsement of his plan to help secure private funding.
7:47: Germain: He calls the pool meetings over the past months “heart wrenching.”
He said that he thought there would be a chance to open at least one pool with private money.
“We can beat our head against the wall…we can fight it until August…and guess what, there won’t be any pools.”
He says he doesn’t like the situation, but the best strategy at this point is to work with the aquatics plan suggested by the City Manager.
He divides the argument into two pieces—what’s going to happen this summer versus what’s going to happen long term.
“I’m frustrated it didn’t come out the way we thought it was going to come out,” says Germain, thanking O’Brien and Moylan for their plan and work on the pools, even though he’s disagreed with them a lot.
7:53: Councilor Joff Smith: Calls the pool argument a “roller coaster ride,” giving a litany of emotions covering the range of feelings.
He calls for the same long range plan as everyone, but says it’s disheartening to tell those with money to pay for city pools that it’s not a possibility.
That emotion list again. We caught hope, invigorating, excitement in there.
“While I endorse a long range plan…I don’t know if I’m ready to throw in the towel on opening certain pools.”
7:59: Toomey: Thinks the manager’s plan is “laudable.”
“However, my real concern is that there’s information that has been asked for that has not come forward.” She references Smith’s request for specifics on the exact work needed on individual pools.
She calls for what we can only refer to as a good-ol-fashioned pool raising: A potential volunteer-heavy, donor-sponsored effort to build a new pool.
8:03: O’Brien talks about the struggles with assuming risks and responsibility for things going wrong. “Even private entities…would be asking these questions.”
8:11: Rosen says if the pools aren’t safe, they shouldn’t be opened.
“I just don’t know if we could ever in such short time…make every pool that we want to open perfectly safe.”
Rosen says he’d rather “do it better for next summer” and the future than do it wrong this year.
“At least they’re going to be safe,” under O’Brien’s plan.
8:14: Eddy: Admits he has little experience with city pools; he says he was more of an Indian Lake kid growing up.
“These pools are in tough shape,” he says, citing the disability inaccessibility, the water leakage, etc.
“When our commissioner is telling us they’re unsafe, they’re unsafe.” The “debate ends” there, he says.
8:17: Moylan says the transportation for kids at Lakeside to water facilities has been a budget cut casualty, but that it will be looked at as an additional stop in the new transportation plan being formulated.
8:18: Eddy asks what the timeline is to build a pool, from the time of approval by City Council.
8:19: O’Brien’s says IF funding for debt service was found, we’d be looking at a pool program in place for next summer.
“We would move quickly, depending on a determination of how many pools…we believe we can have those on line for next summer.”
8:21: Citizen Joann Hart: Says it’s “essential” for everyone to have access to pools; says that some of the pools we have are too small and too shallow. She says 5 feet deep isn’t deep enough…that the entire point is to have deep swimming options.
8:25: Activist Cha Cha Connor: She says if the cost to fix pools is in the $50,000 range per pool, and the manager is proposing a $200,000 plan, why not just open three or four pools for this summer?
“When I hear you make a list of community partners…and Save Our Poolz is not on that list…it’s a slap in the face….to those [that have] participated.”
“My disappointment runs really really deep…”
8:28: O’Brien says he welcomes Save Our Pools…that the initial conversation was to funders and private pool owners…that he’ll reach out to invite the community group to the coordination meeting.
8:29: Haller says the group has been heard.
“I share the disappointment…at the same time I’m delighted the City Manager…feels he’s going to be able to bring private dollars to bear.”
“The glaring deficiency…is the lack of swimming facilities in District 4.” Not one of the eight planned pools and beaches will be in District 4.”
“There’s no way I can accept any plan…if it means the exclusion of District 4.”
“This is not a new declaration…but I do feel I want to go on the record stating that.”
8:36: Haller asks what the plan is for mothballing or securing the empty pools.
8:37: Moylan: “They will be secured so there is security around…however, the pools will not be covered.”
8:40: Councilor Petty and the City Manager talk about the unknowns inherent in the pools—underground leakage, soil seepage, uneven chlorine levels, etc.
8:43: Councilor Clancy: Commends the idea of using private pools. Calls the plan this year a “band-aid.”
And says the fact that the current pools “have reached the end of their life is not a surprise.”
“How do we even dare allow children onto the apron of those pools to swim?”
“These pools will never open again. So the question…is what is our plan to make sure it doesn’t happen for another summer.”
He says the pools are beyond repair, and don’t meet any required standards. “So now that we have got to that point, the question becomes, what’s next.”
8:59: Palmieri speaks on the benefits of having the pools in parks.
And now Rushton.
Rushton says among his concerns is that last year the pools were OK…and that all of a sudden they’re not. That there was never a report saying certain things had deteriorated.
“The more exchange of information that his backed up…[the more] confidence.”
Rushton says he still believes pools can be opened, but says he’ll throw his efforts behind the manager’s plan.
9:07: Mayor Konnie Lukes: Says it’s good the nonprofits are stepping up.
9:11: Germain: Asks when demolition on pools will start, saying it’s clear we’ll never reopen current pools.
9:14: Pools done.
9:20: We’re adjourned after a few items under suspension