My Life on the Swimming Pool Committee or You Know How Small Towns Are
Every city which has a swimming pool has a money-gobbling monster nightmare. The expenses, the costs of operation and maintenance, are only the tip of the iceberg of grief.
Most of our pool staff are teens who have never held a job. They have to be trained in what it means to be an employee. They must understand that their job is to guarantee the safety of all swimmers. We never have enough lifeguards. So we scramble to schedule, reschedule, and reschedule the reschedule, often on a daily basis. In addition to learning to ignore their cell phones, music devices and boyfriends/girlfriends, the pool personnel must maintain the cleanliness of the facilities, clean and vacuum the pool, test the waters for chemical balance, count swimmers, collect and keep track of the fees. Whew, it’s a huge job for minimum wage. These people must be overseen by a tyrannical pool director plus mean city personnel. I used to go about my day blissfully unaware that all over the country people responsible for the running of city pools gnashed their teeth and pulled out clumps of hair in frustration.
Three years ago, still clad in ignorance, I accepted a spot on the Harlem pool committee. As a city council person I was aware that operating our municipal pool was costly. I was only vaguely aware of the other headaches. I knew the pittance we charged the children to swim did not begin to balance the expenses, nor should they. The pool is one of many ways city government serves the community. In Harlem our outdoor pool is open during the weeks of summer vacation. Now that I am on the pool committee, each year as spring approaches, I get fidgety.
Serving on our city council has been an enlightening experience. At each monthly meeting we publicly make decisions. These public decisions garner a collection of public “yays” or “boos” from people throughout the community. The swimming pool committee, however, never hears any positive feedback. We are durned if we do and durned if we don’t and durned for everything that goes wrong, including durned afternoon thunderstorms which close the crowded pool on summer’s hottest days.
Around December, during a city council meeting, I announced that I was not interested in serving on the pool committee this year. My pronouncement was met with snickers. Again, in February, I repeated that I would not be on the committee this summer. Outright gut-busting laughter. At the March meeting, Mr. Mayor and my fellow councilpersons, in unison, asked me what I was going to do this year about my pool. It has multiple leaks, needs a new liner, is in desperate need of other repairs and the boiler is on its last legs, having chugged along ten years past its prime.
“I’m not on the pool committee,” I reiterated.
“Uh, huh. Sure.” They rolled their eyes and grinned.
During the ensuing discussion about leaks and other woes, somebody, knowing the city does not have money in the budget for repairs, suggested maybe the pool would need to be shut down for a year. Maybe we could then combine the pool budget for this year with the budget for next year to do the most needed repairs. Maybe the person who made that comment was me.
You know how small towns are. The next day half the citizenry were in a panic and an uproar. “Did you hear? The City is going to close the pool. Where will our children go if they cannot go to the pool?” In a mere twenty four hours, my suggestion, which had been ignored at the meeting, had now become gospel truth.
You know how small towns are. Within forty-eight hours an ad-hoc community group had formed to raise money to repair the pool and keep it open for the summer. One member called and asked me, as the city’s pool representative, to come to the meeting.
“I’m not on the pool committee,” I said.
“Uh huh,” she said. “We meet tomorrow at City Hall at 2:00. See you there.”
There were six of us at that first meeting. Within an hour the pool needs were prioritized, a date was set for a ham dinner followed by raffles and an auction. The group planned a variety of fundraisers to be held throughout the summer, plus a commitment to continue the good work the following year.
We just had the second meeting. I can’t believe how quickly all the plans for our first fundraiser were put into action. The banquet will be held at the VFW Hall April 27 at 6:00. The entire community has jumped in to help. You know how small towns are!
HDN: Looking out my back door
April 19, 2012