Menlo Park City Council approved a contract with Team Sheeper to continue operating Burgess Pool and take over operations at the new Menlo Park Community Center pools, after making a change at the request of competing bidder Solo Aquatics, at its Sept. 12 meeting.
Last year's negotiations between Tim Sheeper, CEO of Team Sheeper, and city officials grew contentious, but ultimately resulted in a one-year contract deal in August 2022. Insufficient access to the public pools at Burgess Park was a hot-button topic, with Solo Aquatics and others complaining to city officials about Team Sheeper's management. Solo Aquatics is a nonprofit swim club that subcontracts space at Burgess Pool.
To continue negotiations, the contract was extended for 30 days to Sept. 30.
Solo Aquatic put in its own bid to operate the city's swimming facilities, both this year and last, but lost out to Team Sheeper both times. A contingent of 15 adults and children from Solo voiced their concerns about the contract at the council meeting, seeking to be put into the contract so that they cannot be removed without city approval.
“Solo is not only an integral part of the swimming community, but is in fact an integral part of our Menlo Park community, by offering a public service that inspires a passion by young swimmers,” Matthew Pastorino, a swimmer with Solo and a Junior Olympics qualifier.
Several speakers said that Team Sheeper is focused on competitive swimmers and that Solo allows for children to join aquatic sports without pressure.
Sheeper’s original contract from 2006 guaranteed to give Solo Aquatics access to pool lanes, something that has carried over through the years to the current contract that expires this month. In the new five-year contract before the council, there's no mention of Solo. City staff confirmed at the Sept. 12 meeting that there was no direct outreach to Solo from the city about the omission.
“This (contract) is not ready for prime time,” Mayor Jen Wolosin said. “At least with Solo, given the outreach, or lack thereof.”
Carole Hayworth, CFO of Team Sheeper, said that she was concerned that calling out Solo specifically would be unfair to other pool subcontractors, and that when Solo was written into the first contract, Team Sheeper didn’t have the option to say no.
Council member Drew Combs challenged the idea, saying that Solo was the only subcontractor with a history of being in the contract, giving the organization a reasonable expectation that it would continue.
It is not ideal for the city to enter a contractual relationship with subcontractors, Combs said. The difference in this case is that Solo is mentioned in the current contract with Team Sheeper.
"So what I am uncomfortable with is that we knew that, removed the party, and didn't really engage them,” he said.
Council members asked for some revisions to the contract, since they did not have access the finalized version until the staff report for the meeting came out, according to Council member Betsy Nash.
One previous sticking point between the city and Team Sheeper has been the length of the contract. Last summer, Team Sheeper sought a five-year contract, which the city refused, offering just a one-year agreement. This summer's deal offered a five-year contract for both the swimming facilities at Burgess Park and the under-construction Menlo Park Community Center (MPCC). Nash, a member of the council subcommittee negotiating with Team Sheeper, suggested a three-year contract with a performance-based option to renew for another year. Nash called the three-year end date a “check-in point” to see how Team Sheeper was faring with the new MPCC pools.
As contract length was a sticking point in the past, Wolosin, Combs and Council member Maria Doerr all said that they preferred to stick with the five-year contract.
The council also requested that Live Scan fingerprinting and background checks be performed on all employees or contractors who might interact with minors, and that Team Sheeper collect information on who is using its services, with an eye toward furthering equity and collecting data about how many pool users are Menlo Park residents.
The council approved the contract with the proposed revisions in a 3-2 vote, with Nash and Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor opposed.