Aquatics users group to be picked from open pool


Editor's Note: As the Almanac went to press on Sept. 26, Menlo Park Recreation Services Manager Katrina Whiteaker said the city has now added more options for general pool users to be included in the Aquatics Users Group. Fliers were posted at Burgess Pool and the city posted a request for volunteers on its Twitter account. Interested residents should submit their request to Ms. Whiteaker before Oct. 10. Contact her at 330-2208 or kmwhiteaker@menlopark.lrg.

By Sandy Brundage

Almanac Staff Writer

The city of Menlo Park's way of selecting commissioners has its drawbacks -- for starters, volunteers are scarce for the less glamorous posts -- but has the advantage of public transparency. Not so for the way Menlo Park first decided to choose members of the aquatics users group, a panel charged with providing annual reports on customer satisfaction among those using the city's swimming pools.

Team Sheeper, which won a contract to privately manage the city's public pools, first selected possible members from each subgroup of swimmers, such as lap swimmers and participants in the Sheeper-sponsored Masters program, and provided those names to the city, which will make the final determination. SOLO, a nonprofit youth program that also uses the pool, was asked to choose its own representative. Forming the users group is required under the terms of the new contract.

The size of the users group has yet to be finalized, according to Cherise Brandell, community services director.

Recreation Services Manager Katrina Whiteaker said that personal contact with the contractor, instead of advertising the positions to the public, seemed more likely to lead to volunteers who were really willing to serve.

"The self-elected representative may not be enough of a 'regular user' of the pool in order to interview other sub-group members or gather sufficient feedback from other users," she said, adding that unlike a commission, the users group is meant to provide customer feedback, not governance.

Although the Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved the process on Sept. 21, the methodology still troubles some swimmers.

"It has been my observation that Advisory Boards morph from sounding boards into echo chambers when the management -- rather than users -- selects its members," Erin Glanville wrote in an email to the City Council.

Drawing on her professional background working with user groups, she said, "To use an analogy, if my relationship with the owner of a restaurant motivates him or her to ask that I serve on a panel reviewing the quality of that restaurant's overall service, I may be reluctant to mention that I don't really like the food and have had problems with poor service."

Ms. Glanville volunteers with SOLO, but emphasized that she was speaking independently of the group.

Concerns about transparency have dogged the city's handling of the pools since it first elected to turn over management to a private contractor five years ago. The previous council awarded Team Sheeper the contract to operate the $6.8-million, publicly funded facility without charging rent or asking other vendors for bids.

The contract's renewal did go through a formal bid process earlier this year that culminated in a revised agreement with Team Sheeper. The contract requires Team Sheeper to pay $3,000 a month to lease the Burgess pools; be responsible for all operating costs; and operate the Belle Haven pools for at least three months a year.

It was not untroubled waters, however; halfway through the bid evaluation the city changed the process without notifying the public or the Parks and Recreation Commission. 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 without involving the council.

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Like this comment
Posted by oblivious
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

So Katrina Whiteaker only wants people to serve on this group if they already swim there? That's a recipe for sure bias! How about including people who would like to swim in our city pool but don't because their needs don't fit into Sheeper's country club model? Current users are presumably people who are satisfied with the status quo -- not going to get much insight from them.

P.S. Might be nice to include a few residents of the Linfield Oaks neighborhood, many of whom feel shut out of a pool that's right across the street from us! We have a neighborhood email list if Whiteaker changes her mind and permits people who don't belong to Sheeper's club to participate.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't understand?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Has something changed at Burgess? The last time I checked I spent $5.00 for a lap session, and all I had to do was show my Driver's License, to prove I lived in MP. I did not have to sign a contract, join a group, know somebody, be sponsored by somebody, or deposit a joiner's fee of $100K+.(required of most Country Clubs) I really don't understand what the problem may be, other than someone not getting what THEY specifically want, versus what the majority of us want.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Sep 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm

How about representation from the water aerobics participants. There are 20-40 every weekday morning who should have a voice.

Like this comment
Posted by SweetDeal
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 29, 2011 at 2:17 am

I am still looking for a deal somewhere in America that is as sweet as the one Tim Sheeper and Menlo Swim enjoy here in Menlo Park. I want someone to build me a $7M asset and then turn it over to me for my use as a private enterprise, without requiring any use fees or rent (don't make me laugh about the $3K included in the new contract). And now the City thinks that they can get an objective view of customer satisfaction from Tim's best customers? Puh-lease!

Menlo Swim runs a good swim school; my kids have taken lessons there. And clearly there is a useful lap swimming program at Burgess. But by other standards, it fails as a community recreational pool. There is very little available free swim time. In fact, there is no recreational pool - only an "Instructional" pool and a "Performance" pool. I don't know where kids and families are supposed to go to have fun in the water.

Like this comment
Posted by oblivious
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm

You hit it exactly, SweetDeal. I have never gone to the pool to swim laps, so maybe it works for those swimmers, but the facility utterly fails as a place where local families can go with their kids on hot days. I understand that Sheeper loses money on recreational swimmers vs master swimmers or students, but this is supposed to be a community pool, not a pool designed to profit an individual. Especially since taxpayer money built that facility, and it is located on public land.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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