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Recreation Commission fights for Whitmore Pool

October 12, 2012

A view of the Whitmore Pool. File Photo

A feisty and sometimes cranky Recreation Commission got to its regular meeting on Tuesday and immediately cut to the chase. To close, or not to close, the Whitmore Pool.

“I think this is a travesty,” said commissioner Sean Turner, opening a series of salvos from other commissioners as well as audience members. 
 
“It should not be closed.” 
 
Commission chair Bill Sauser was even more blunt. He took on the Town Council and any others who may wish to close the pool as part of the town’s austerity plan in the wake of the $29.5 million judgment against the town in the MLLA case.
 
 “The Town Council has told this community on many occasions that recreation is the engine that drives our bus. Yet we have been hit harder than anyone else.
 
“This is the second time town management has come to those of you on the swim team and told you that with no Measure R money, the pool can’t be run. We dug our heels in and said that the Town Council has to figure this out. I think it’s time we have to dig our heels in again and find some other way.”
 
Straying afield from the direct issue Park facilities, such as the ball fields, Sauser took on the council head on.
 
“This is politically incorrect,” he said, “but you can triple your bang for your buck and keep this open and just get rid of one of the town’s top three administrators.“
 
The council proposed the closing of the pool and park last week as part of a wide-ranging austerity program, which also would eliminate seven sworn police officers.
 
But this week was all about recreation and the pool.
 
The über-question, as it were, is if the town is going to change its policies on Measure R (and Measure U) tax funding. Measure R language currently is strict, stipulating that the money is for new recreation projects only, not for “supplanting” old projects or for propping up those facilities currently funded through the town’s general fund.
 
But now, in the wake of the $2 million-a-year-payment on the judgment and with the general fund all but gutted, all bets are off, including Measure R language. 
 
The Town Council will meet again on Thursday, Oct. 18, to further discuss austerity proposals. On Wednesday, the town put a survey online to help gather feedback from the community. (The survey is on the town’s website.)
 
To the Recreation Commission, though, losing the Whitmore Pool would be a crusher.
 
“I am a champion of any recreation program,” said Commissioner Pat Agnitch, “and I think we should do everything we can to ensure our programs continue. I would encourage the Town Council to eliminate that (Measure R) language because of Whitmore Pool.
 
“If we eliminate the supplanting language, it would make it possible for some of our programs to continue. This gives us a fresh opportunity to look at these things.”
 
To cap it all off, citizen activist Sandy Hogan proposed re-thinking Measure R funding entirely, producing email evidence from town attorney Andrew Ross that seemed to support her idea of a drastic Measure R overhaul.
 
Hogan, a member of the Mobility Commission, said her reading of the Measure R language has not so much to do with facilities, per se, but in the funding of those facilities. That’s a razor-thin distinction, to be sure, but crucial, she said.
 
She said if her reading of the Measure R language is correct, then it might be possible for Measure R to fund the entire recreation department, thereby easing the budget strain for recreation, whether it is current or new.
 
Whitmore supporters brought plenty of ammunition to the meeting, both in terms of policy suggestions as well as sometimes highly personal stories.
 
Jim Lynch, whose father-in-law, the late Roy Saari, was a gold and silver medal winner in swimming at the 1964 Olympics, delivered an emotional speech on behalf of his family and his two children.
 
“It’s tough,” he said afterward. “I’ve lived here for 26 years. They’re tearing apart the community and making decisions early, before we can really discuss it, and I just don’t think that’s right.”
 
Lynch brought along a 1964 Olympics T-shirt as a poignant prop, saying it was among many shirts given to the swim team by then-coach Lindsay Barksdale, in a small effort to cheer Saari during his remarkable medal run in the Tokyo Games.

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