Community Board Indicts City On Lifeguard/Beach Issues
The community board endorsed a detailed committee report Tuesday that alleges unfairness and impropriety in the city's lifeguard training and hiring process and makes recommendations that, if implemented, would bring sweeping changes to city beaches.
The five-page report, the culmination of several committee meetings and about four months of research, has already been forwarded to City Councilmember Helen D. Foster, the chair of the council's Parks and Recreation Committee, along with a request for oversight hearings.
Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. told The Wave he hand delivered the report to Foster on Wednesday and that tentative hearing dates are being discussed for early next year.
Just where the meetings should be held is fast becoming an issue. Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, CB14 Chairperson Delores Orr and others said they want to see meetings held in Rockaway, while Addabbo insisted City Hall is the proper venue.
"Everybody comes to City Hall," said the councilman, who rattled off logistical concerns and also suggested the hearings could garner more media attention at what he called "the people's house."
Addabbo also said afterwards that he hopes that he can bring together all of the key players - community board, union, parks department, department of ed and elected officials - before any hearings take place.
"I'm hopeful we can resolve a lot of issues before the hearings," Addabbo said. But for that to happen, he added, people are going to have to put their personalities and differences aside.
Whether or not that can be achieved remains to be seen, and the committee report is scathing in its assessment. Dan Mundy, the chair of Community Board 14's Public Safety and Parks committees, read the committee's findings to the board Tuesday night.
"The preliminary research conducted by the ad hoc lifeguard/beach subcommittee has revealed that the current lifeguard hiring practice along with the training, testing and qualifying program has been a closed door, clandestine operation filled with political patronage, harassment and corruption and must be changed," the report begins.
The report calls for the dismissal of current lifeguard test administrators and strongly recommends that Federal guidelines be used in conjunction with an "open door" test procedure.
The assessment is broken down into four categories: recruitment, training and testing, qualifications and additional recommendations. Highlights include: Using part-time lifeguards; Establishing a junior lifeguard program; Establishing 20 lifeguard training sites citywide; Open testing with two proctors from different city agencies conducting the timing. Candidates who fail should be told why they failed and when they can retake the test, it says.
The report also calls for the expansion of lifeguard hours to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday though Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays and for hours to be extended to at least 7:30 p.m. when the temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
And, in what could be the biggest challenge to the current system, the report calls for a long range plan to determine if the New York City Fire Department should take over all lifeguard recruitment, training and testing.
All of this is in response to a pilot program that trained lifeguard hopefuls at pools at city high schools. Organizers and participants in the program have charged that they were targeted for failure because the Department of Parks and Recreation and DC37, the city lifeguard union, saw it as a threat to their longstanding program.
Fifteen people, many of whom had also spoken at previous meetings, reiterated their concerns regarding the current system so the entire board could hear their complaints first-hand, but a new voice, belonging to Belle Harbor resident Bernie Heeran, seemed to capture what the others were saying. "That group that's in there now thinks they can do whatever they want," he said.