Aquatic Center stand-off: nobody wants to take this dog to the taxpayers

4 Apr

Sorry I have not had a chance to finish my post about the CARD meeting. In fact, I was unable to attend the entire meeting. But I did hear an interesting conversation in the hallway between aquatic center proponent Jerry Hughes and design consultant Greg Melton.

Melton has done a lot of work for both the city of Chico and CARD over the past few years. He designed the traffic circles on Manzanita. He did design work at DeGarmo Park, although I don’t know if he’s responsible for the gaff they made that caused flooding and thousands of dollars in repair work within six months of the opening of that park. Melton has also been running “charettes” for the city and CARD, for the skate board park, Caper Acres remodel, etc. He takes in the community’s comments and turns them into money, most of which goes into his pocket.

Melton is the one who turned a $125,000 gift from Marilyn Warrens into a $475,000 bridal bower. When the board balked at that price and asked him to come back with something for $250,000, he balked, saying he couldn’t do anything for that price. He finally came up with a design for $306,000 that the board gushed all over, because it’s not their money paying for it. Melton even talked the donor into giving another $25,000. Oh gee, Greg Melton can make it rain money!

Melton is the only local designer who’s given a proposal for the aquatic center.

The cheapest design he’s got there is over $10 million, with almost $2 million going into “design and management soft costs” – that’s Melton. Of course he puts up the $18 million design first – wow, $550,000 “design contingency”. 

But he knows how to play it – you should have seen him schmoozing Mrs Warrens – I kept hearing Debbie Harry shrieking “Call Me!” as I watched, it was sickening.   Melton has got himself a sweet hayride, and he knows how to milk a cow, that’s for sure. My milkshake tastes better than yours…

So when he took his moneymaker out into the hallway, I went along for a listen. Jerry Hughes is very frustrated with the board, and it sounds like he’s not getting a lot of cooperation out of Aquajets, either. In previous meetings, Aquajets has been told, they need to get out and engage the public, start drumming up support for this aquatic center. They haven’t done anything – look, it’s not even mentioned on their website:

Hughes had addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting, asking them why the aquatic center wasn’t on the agenda (they explained it was on the list that was not made available to the attendees) and asked if the board had received a communication he’d sent. They acted confused. He told them he’d been meeting with Brad Geiss of Aquajets, and they were working on getting proposals from various contractors and consultants. He said he wanted to schedule an aquatic center committee meeting before the next regular board meeting, and the board thought that would be great. Jan Sneed added that such a meeting needed to be noticed to the public, how big of her.

Hughes sat down and Sneed started the meeting. Visconti got up and provided what might be the “emergency” excuse – he said CARD’s “line of revolving credit” was about to expire, an emergency fund that is tapped into for emergencies, he said, using that word again. Visconti needed the boards’ approval to reapply. This was an emergency?  Visconti couldn’t bring this up at the last regular board meeting less than two weeks ago? 

I don’t know the Brown Act, I wish somebody with legal expertise would look into these meetings. I’m hoping to get Rose’s take on it.

As the board ran down the list, Melton made his presentation, then Hughes motioned for him to come out in the hall. Hughes wanted to assure Melton that his design was the only real proposal submitted, the most complete anyway, and that he was still in the running.  They both agreed, the board needs to make more of a commitment before any of the consultants will submit a serious proposal. Melton seemed to be fine with working with other agencies, there’s a lot of money in this project for lots of hogs. 

Melton asked  Hughes if they’d done any kind of public survey – Hughes said No. I don’t know why he didn’t mention the survey run a couple of years ago that came back negative, unless it’s because he’s in denial of the community’s rejection of this project. The consultant who ran the survey told the board they needed to get out and sell this project to the public, convince the taxpayers of the absolute need for this Taj Majal swim center when there are already two decrepit and neglected public pools under CARD’s lack of attention. There has been no such attempt. Nobody wants to take this pig out in traffic.  Jerry Hughes can’t even write a letter to the editor. There is no public support for this pool. Hughes was expressing his frustration that the project is not moving fast enough – well, look at this guy, he doesn’t have that much time left to wait. He’s desperate to do this project, and nobody really wants it as badly as he does, unless it’s Brad Geiss. Melton also mentioned, and Hughes agreed – they have to find some way to fund it.  They were sensitive to my presence, and wouldn’t say “tax” right in front of me, but Melton remarked that they needed to “get everybody involved.” I went back into the meeting, and Hughes came back in about a minute later.  Melton followed.

They board and staff were discussing other projects – unbelievable. One project they didn’t have on the list is the Americans with Disabilities Act. I don’t care how you feel about this law, it’s the law. If you were in a wheelchair I think you’d have some things to say about the number of CARD buildings and facilities that are NOT ADA compliant. At the board meeting last month they talked about spending $40,000 on a STUDY to find out how noncompliant they are! But here they were Thursday morning making an “emergency” out of deciding which Pollyanna projects they want to spend millions of dollars adding to their inventory of neglected facilities. 

I had to leave at 10am, I don’t get paid to sit in these meetings. I had to rely on Urseny’s story – which is bullshit. She says the subject of the aquatic center was “tabled” – no it wasn’t, they’re going to have a committee meeting and a report at the next regular board meeting, that’s not “tabling.” Urseny is embedded – how else would CARD have got a story in the ER with 24 hours notice of a meeting? You wouldn’t believe what the ER put me through trying to notice my CTA meetings – send the notice in 4 weeks in advance, and then they didn’t run it – this happened several times. I still have the e-mail apologies from David Little.

When I got a chance I looked at the Aquajets website for any mention, any pleas for money for this center, and all I find is cannibalism. That’s what I call it when an organization does not do any external fund raising, no public events, just expects it’s members to continually come up with money out of their own pockets. They do a yearly fundraiser, for which they sell the tickets to each other and their relatives (wouldn’t you hate to be the co-worker of one of these parents?). Then they do “Pizza Night” at Woodstocks. Woodstocks offers a program that is good for their own bottom line – they give your organization vouchers to turn in when they buy a pizza, and then Woodstocks makes a donation to your organization for every voucher. They allow your organization to have meetings, as long as pizza is being eaten. So, Aquajets turns all their meetings into Pizza Night. When I looked at their “news” page this was the only timely event listed. 

March PIZZA NIGHT is TOMORROW – Tuesday, March 31, at Woodstock’s starting at 6:00 pm. Please give a Woodstock’s coupon when ordering. Polar Bear prizes will be awarded, as well as Swimmer of the Month, and upcoming team info.

I think the biggest “fundraiser” is the fees these families pay to have their kids in this program. On most levels it’s just babysitting. There are coaches for the more motivated competitors. I don’t know if the coaches are paid but from what I’ve seen at tournaments they act like they are coaching Olympic hopefuls.   Geiss hits these people for money around every corner.  I can understand why they would scream for the taxpayers to pay if they were put to the wall, but I’m not sure how many of them actually feel any need for a new center. I’m guessing most of these families are in and out of the club in a few years, they use it for babysitting while they do their work-out at In Motion, there’s no reason for them to want to put up a wad for some new center that won’t be built before their kid goes off to college.

As a hockey mom I know how these fees pile up – most of it goes to pay for the facilities at which the tournaments are held.  Unlike Aquajets, our hockey league floated their own boat, and still does.  Our manager Jeff Novak is a volunteer and does a darned good job of rounding up big sponsors for our facility in Hamilton City (Chico wouldn’t permit it, so the league went to Glenn County, long story short). Our bookkeeper is a volunteer, there’s only one paid coach, most of the coaches are dads.  My husband and I managed our kid’s team, and that involved spending a few hours a month online, dealing with other clubs, filling out applications for tournaments and sending or handing over the check to the other league for their facilities. Sponsors keep the fees affordable, that’s for sure, my family couldn’t have done it if the players had to come up with all the money.

See sponsors here, compare this to Aquajets sponsors:

Like I said, NVHSC manager Jeff Novak gets no salary, but puts hours and hours into raising money for the league. I’m pretty sure Aquajets General Manager Brad Geiss gets a salary, anybody’s guess, because this group does not have to answer questions like that. I don’t know how many hours he spends on fundraising.  I’m guessing Geiss is hoping to become a public worker, as manager of the new center. 

But right now, Hughes, Geiss, and the CARD board seem to be throwing that hot potato of public funding back and forth. Nobody wants to identify themselves with a tax measure. 

Rose was the only other member of the public I saw at this meeting. Everybody else at that meeting had a vested interest in being there. No city councilors, no county supervisor, the only member of the press Urseny, who as I’ve said, knocks herself out to shine a favorable light on CARD. 



2 Responses to “Aquatic Center stand-off: nobody wants to take this dog to the taxpayers”

  1. Michael Jones April 4, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    excellent reporting 🙂

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