One more year.
That is how much more time the Aquatics Board will have to decide on the future of who will run the city’s pools after the City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee approved the extension to June 2019 at the regular meeting Wednesday.
Aquatics Board Chair Max Mertz presented the board’s recommendations during the meeting and outlined what he believed still needed to be done before the board, as it stands right now, dissolves. The original plan for the board was to “sunset” in May after being together for three years. During the board’s regular meeting March 6, Parks & Recreation Director Kirk Duncan said he would recommend the original plan.
Mertz explained how there are four options for the board, two of which he said the board did not approve of. Mertz said dissolving of the board in May and leaving the board, as it is right now, were not good long-term positions.
While the board would stay the same during the extension period, the goal was to either become an “empowered” board, where it could hire and fire its own Aquatics Director, or find a third-party nonprofit to take over the city’s pools. Currently the city’s pools are run by the city’s Parks & Recreation department.
Finance Committee member Loren Jones did not find the third-party option acceptable based on what he has learned from the public.
“I think we would eliminate fear and controversy if we do not look at third-party options,” Jones said. “I think the biggest problem is the (board’s) success. People don’t want to see the board change.”
Mertz felt the third-party option was feasible because it would still allow a local board to be in control.
He believed the public might feel differently if there was more research done. The option of a YMCA taking over the pools was given. He said the YMCA option was detailed in his report because it gave the clearest example of what a third-party option would do. However, if another nonprofit made a good fit, it would work.
“We used the YMCA because it was widely available to do a deep dive to look into third-party,” Mertz said.
Mertz said he favored the third-party option, but research still needs to be done on all options.
“Obviously, there is a lot more vetting to be done,” Mertz said. “There is an education component to this. I think when we educate (the public) and show them what it means, they could change their thoughts. I think it is at least worth looking in to.”
Committee member Beth Weldon, who also worked with the Aquatics Board, said leaving all the options opened made the most sense and feels the extension is more than enough time to get issues resolved.
“I think all options are feasible,” she said.
Mertz also added he would like the city manager’s office, the city attorney and the Assembly to help in the matter as much as possible.
City Manager Rorie Watt felt the current establishment of the board is not a model that can last. However, Watt believes the extension is a good idea.
“I don’t object to the current model, but it is not a good model (for the future),” Watt said. “There can be organizational tension with this model, but completing the board’s due diligence is important. The (CBJ) Assembly will need to devote time to this topic.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.