2006-09-01 / Community

Lifeguard Issues Aired at Committee Meeting

By Brian Magoolaghan

In what could one day result in City Council hearings, two community board committees met at the Beach Club this week to share and gather information regarding lifeguard recruitment, training and testing in New York City.

About 30 people, including members of Community Board 14's ad hoc Lifeguard/Beach Committee, the Parks and Public Safety Committee, the Public Advocate's office and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. attended Tuesday's meeting, which was described as a "fact finding mission" by Dan Mundy Sr., who chairs both committees.

The meeting was scheduled after participants in a satellite lifeguard training program charged the Department of Parks and Recreation and the lifeguard union with sabotaging a program that was supposed to train kids at high schools and then segue into Parks' training program.

"None of them got a fair shot," said Dan Mundy Jr., of the 10 kids he worked with closely. Mundy Jr., who sits on the ad hoc committee, said the kids were targeted for failure because they trained in a satellite program that Parks and the union see as a threat to their longstanding and centralized training system.

Hank Iori, a Department of Education worker who helped coordinate the kids' access to pools in city high schools, called the resistance to the program "very bizarre." He proposed a list of recommendations of which the establishment of citywide training sites and an open door testing policy are major components.

Mundy Jr., Iori and others say the kids who they worked were strong swimmers who were told they missed the mark to lifeguard on the ocean because the city's need was at the pools. They say the kids regularly swam faster than the required time and verified that during the testing by smuggling in iPods, which have stopwatches. They argued that the city's testing should be open - parents and guardians allowed into the pool area - and that the stopwatch time should be verified by two or more parties from different city agencies.

Janet Fash, a 27-year Parks veteran who is the Chief Lifeguard at the Beach 97 Street shack, attributed the kids problems and other lifeguard issues to a "cloistered and totalitarian operation."

At the head of that operation is lifeguard union president Peter Stein and Parks water safety director Richard Sher. The question of who those men answer to was asked over and over again at the meeting, with an answer never becoming clear.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon said he feared Fash would "be the next head to roll" for speaking out at the meeting.

There was strong support at the meeting for keeping local elected officials involved. Michael O'Connor of the Neponsit Property Owners Association said the matter should be referred to the Department of Investigation because of the "alleged improprieties."

Mundy Sr. said the goal of the meeting was to share information and build the case for City Council hearings, but the fact finding mission was successful on at least one other front. Up until now, Parks has maintained consistently that part-time lifeguards are a no-go, however, Leonard Shrier, counsel for DC37 (lifeguards), stunned Addabbo and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer's representative at the meeting when he confirmed that part-timers are hired to work from Memorial Day until July 4. He said part-timers are allowed to work until schools are out, because afterwards there are enough full-timers.

"They've always said, 'We can't do it,'" Pheffer said the day after the meeting. "It's just so frustrating." She said the new information could open the door to increased part-time hires.

The ad hoc Lifeguard Issues Committee will meet again in three to four weeks and form a list of recommendations that will be hashed out at another special meeting that is tentatively slated for the first week of October, Mundy Sr. said. The committee will then decide on what recommendations it will present at the full board meeting on Tuesday, October 10, he said.

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