Aquatic Center? Bullshit – pensioneer Jerry Hughes is just trying to get more money for CARD to pay to CalPERS

25 Sep

Monday night I attended a meeting called together by former Chico Area Recreation District General Manager Jerry Hughes, who also served quite a number of years on the CARD board after he retired from the manager position.  Hughes and his friends at Aquajets want an aquatic center, and they want the general public to pay for it through a bond or assessment on our homes.  But it was pretty clear – while they claim they will offer programs for the public, Aquajets private swim club will obviously be the main user of this facility.

And, one thing that hasn’t been talked about before the public – it looks like they will abandon Shapiro and Pleasant Valley pools altogether, having neglected them for so long they are now in need of major repair and ADA updating.  Staff tried to make it sound like it’s all because of ADA compliance – well, shouldn’t a public facility be ADA compliant? And shouldn’t they have been keeping up with the laws all along, instead of siphoning out all the money to pay their salaries, benefits and pension? 

I’ll tell you the funniest thing I saw that night – the little room was pretty packed, at least 40 people attended, at least 10 or 15 of them stood up to proclaim they wanted a pool, but I tell you what – no matter how Hughes and current General Manager Steve Visconti cajoled them, they mostly slipped out of that room without signing the list to be on the vetting committee.   As the room emptied, Hughes announced there were only two names on the list, one of which he was putting on it himself.

It’s official – the more money people have the more taxes they expect to get. You’ve seen this Downtown – our police department reminds me of this black bear I saw at the San Diego zoo – paw out front, mouth open – give me MORE!

Most of the people in the room were affiliated with Aquajets. I looked over the Aquajets website – you have to have quite a bit of dough if your kid wants to swing with this crowd – it’s not about your kid’s talent for swimming, if that’s what you think. It’s about raising enough money to pay their manager, a fellow named Brad.  Brad was the only one who willingly signed up for the committee. Boy, was he willing. 

Brad mentioned USA sports, a nationwide membership organization  that consults their fee-paying members –  local sports teams – and helps them get started. Brad said, that as part of Aquajets membership in this organization, they get consulting in these matters.   But former Chico Olympian Haley Cope Clark said, point blank, “we don’t want to let the public know right away about USA’s involvement…” She didn’t explain that, so I will – it means, Aquajets is taking over this project, period. Sorry, nudie girl, the public needs to know that point right off the bat.

The Aquajets are a non-profit with a paid director – why haven’t they garnered sponsors the way my kid’s hockey team did and build their own facility?   This NEVER came into the conversation.

Of course, Hughes was foxy – he never mentioned the bond or assessment – that was out of the conversation. But he made it clear, they want the public to pay for this thing, and they need to come up with an argument why we should. Cope and some others stressed the need to convince us that the place would be used for swim lessons and water safety training. Yeah, just like PV Pool, where we paid for stuff like that, having been dragged out at 7am on Saturday morning to stand in a line that snaked around the PV parking lot, to sign up and pay for the lessons, only to  be told at least once a session that we would not get our lesson that day because Aquajets was  commandeering the pool. 

Some old timers in the audience impatiently demanded to know, “why this effort didn’t go through in 1986″.    A couple of older Aquajets parents recalled that the public complained then about paying for something that would be used exclusively “by rich people.”  Well, duh, old man, how do you feel about welfare?  They didn’t seem to get that connection, expressing disgust, shock and embarrassment that the people of Chico were not willing to lay down money from their own kid’s college fund to pay for a tribute to rich people’s spoiled kids.  

The board discussed an aquatic center in 1986, and here’s the story Hughes told about it. “We had the meeting on the wrong night – Friday,” he explained.  He said, “people who didn’t want this to happen (the aquatic center)”  went out to bars at Happy Hour and dragged in a mob that shouted down the board. The board, he said, was intimidated by this mob and the discussion was ended. Never to be resurrected until now? 

I’ll say this – what a bullshit insulting story. I can’t stand being treated like an idiot.  Name names Jerry. Who “didn’t want this to happen”?  Who brought in a mob to disrupt a public meeting – that’s against the law.  And here’s the hum-dinger – you let this mob disrupt your meeting, tell you what you are allowed to discuss, and then you never attempted to agendize this issue again? 

Again, bullshit story. I was raised by a Texan Honey, you gonna have to do a little better than that!  Is this just a preview of what they are willing to pull out on anybody who opposes this Taj Majal idea?

At least maintenance director Jake Preston  continued to remind the audience, beyond paying to build this thing, they have to maintain it in the future. This is the dynamite point as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think Aquajets is big enough to support this thing, I  don’t even know how consistent their membership is, they don’t give out any information like that on their website. You never read about their events in the paper, nothing about fund raisers or anything like that. They expect to use this thing almost exclusively, but I sure don’t see them being able to maintain it.  Visconti also voiced his belief that rec programs shouldn’t pay for themselves. This is a man who expects the general public to keep him like a fat whore.

Read the article below, from less than a year ago, when Hughes and Mark Sweany stepped down from the CARD Board of Directors. They mention a bond, knowing that the RDA is history. Sweany expresses the opinion that CARD is not good at handling debt? So, they need a bond to pay off projects they’ve built, like the $900,000 they sunk into building and landscaping the CARD center back in 1975. I remember people being floored at spending that kind of money building one building. They made it a Taj Majal, looks like some rich guy’s hunting lodge in there with all the wood paneling and stone work.  Done on a piece of city property leased by CARD, that building is sadly underused. I think the fees are too high – when a friend of mine had a wedding there, she paid $400 for four hours, and you have to clean the place yourself, so she had to throw off her shoes and she and the groom and their families had to spend the last hour cleaning up  the joint. Of course everybody pitched in, but we all thought the time was a little short, and the money a little high. That was about 20 years ago. I have no idea what they charge now, I’m guessing it’s onerous, but I put in a request for information, we’ll see.

I think CARD is horribly mismanaged. They spend all their money on salaries, benefits and pensions for the staff who pay none of their own expenses. Then they cut hours on their employees, part time employees, so they are not eligible to get benefits. Finance director Scott Dowell says they will have to make more cuts when Obamacare takes effect next year (for businesses).  More cuts? How about cutting Dowell’s $96,000 a year salary. How about getting rid of Visconti all together – he doesn’t do anything but host meetings. The reports he gives are all made up of information he gets from Dowell and the other subordinates – why do we need to pay him $112,000 year, plus ALL his benefits and pension? 

These questions never game up. The whole evening was just an idea session about how they could get the public to pay for this thing. 

Below Hughes and Sweany discuss ” the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”  I find it ironic that they’d already strayed from their mission by that time, and become a salary trough.

Toward the end of the meeting, Hughes discussed timing on this thing. They don’t think they can put a bond on the 2014 ballot, because they’re waiting for the dirt to settle on a series of constitutional amendments that are slithering through the state legislature right now, amendments that will lower the voting threshold for local tax measures from 66 2/3 to 55 percent.   Hughes said that if these amendments are successfully implemented over the next few months, they might put a bond or assessment on the ballot for 2014, but more likely they will shoot for 2016. 

These people have been plotting and planning to throw their financial malfeasance off on the public for the last couple of years as they’ve systematically jacked up their salaries. Don’t forget  – Hughes gets a pension for his years as manager, but I’m guessing, it’s chump change compared to Visconti’s $112,000/year. Still, Hughes knows, just like Tom Lando, that continued payment of his pension depends on agencies like CARD continuing to make their $300 – 400,000 a year in pension payments, as well as the occasional half-million dollar interest payoff.  They can’t do that without more taxes from us.

Chico recreation directors talk about their multi-year spans

By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer

POSTED:   12/16/2012 10:34:17 PM PST
Click photo to enlarge

Mark Sweany (left) and Jerry Hughes prepare for a CARD board meeting on Nov. 15.(Jason…

CHICO — Two longtime directors on the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board said they didn’t run for re-election in order to make room for new voices.But both were proud of their legacies on the board, which honored them in November for their service.

Jerry Hughes served on the board for four years, but had been the recreation district’s general manager for nearly 20 years before that. He held the gavel as chair for the past year.

Mark Sweany served for more than 16 years, and said it was “time for a life. CARD was an easy branch of government, but politics can be all-consuming.”

Both said they ran for their seats because they thought they could help out.

When he was hired for the CARD general manager’s position in 1972, Hughes already had been involved in recreation for the city of San Jose since 1957.

Of his accomplishments, Hughes mentioned construction of the Chico Community Center at 545 Vallombrosa Ave., where CARD’s office is, along with classrooms and a general hall that are busy with weddings, assemblies and meetings.

Hughes said he helped facilitate meetings with neighbors who might have opposed the community center, but gave it their support. Hughes felt the effort resulted in a stunning, landscaped building in 1975 for $900,000.

Community Park, off East 20th Street, was another project that turned an empty field into the biggest developed park in Chico at the time.

Hughes recalled many meetings and phone calls that resulted in the trade of numerous government- and privately-owned properties that would leave Chico with a big field to develop into a park for the community, as well as for nearby Chapman School.

What he really appreciated about the project was the large community support — from volunteer workers to city hall cooperation.

Sweany was initially attracted to CARD because of the community effort to create an aquatic center.

Sweany said he was always interested in how projects were funded.

“That’s the key with any small local government, you can’t run up a huge amount of debt.”

CARD is a special district, funded in part by a portion of property taxes within the Chico area.

Sweany says the board is always looking at ways to save tax dollars, such as privatization of some recreation-linked tasks like landscaping and maintenance.

The financial future of CARD, with redevelopment funding disappearing and talk of a bond issue still in the early stages, is an area Sweany said needs watching.

“CARD is good at not incurring bad debt — projects it’s invested in like a big lawn mower, lighting at Hooker Oak ball field, solar panels at Community Park — have been wisely made. “It would be nice to wipe out debt completely.”

Happy with the way DeGarmo Park has developed, Sweany said there’s “a long way to go” on the park next to Shasta School, off The Esplanade.

Sweany notes it’s not only the cost of creating a project, but what further costs are in terms of replacement and maintenance.

“It’s not about building the building. It’s got to have staff, be maintained …”

Asked about advice for the new board members, Sweany said, “They need to be careful what they think their income is. There’s a danger of losing property tax money. With the housing inventory as it is, there’s less property tax coming to CARD. That and money from programs are the biggest income streams.

“If property tax drops, there will be some serious questions to ask,” Sweany said.

Hughes said, “Honor the reason that CARD exists — that is, to help the community with all kinds of leisure activities.”

Sweany said he feels the need for a second dog park should be considered. CARD opened the first dog park in Chico at DeGarmo.

Hughes and Sweany both recognized the staff.

“Sometimes we take them for granted. They’re tremendous,” Hughes said.

As general manager, Hughes said he was afforded extra insight into what the staff goes through, not to mention the efforts put in by volunteers and board members.

“Our staff made us look good,” Sweany said. “It’s an amazing group of people. Sometimes there’s conflict between labor and management. Even when we all weren’t in agreement, everyone pulled together for the community,” Sweany said.

Chico voters only had two choices to replace Hughes and Sweany, electing Tom Lando and Michael Worley for the posts. They will be seated this month.

Additionally, retired Chico State University administrator Herman Ellis was appointed by the board to fill the post left vacant by former board member Fred Brooks, who resigned after the election deadline had occurred.

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