Lifeguard Meeting Goes Swimmingly
By Brian Magoolaghan
Community board members, local elected officials and the Parks Department say they're optimistic after sitting down late last week with top city and union officials to discuss important lifeguard testing and training issues.
The hour-long, invitation-only meeting, which has been described as "a frank and open discussion" that could lead to change, was held last Friday morning inside City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's conference room at 250 Broadway, across the street from City Hall.
The meeting was scheduled as a precursor to City Council oversight hearings, which may be held in response to a damning report released last year by Community Board 14. The report alleges unfairness and impropriety in the way the city trains and tests lifeguards and says public safety is being compromised.
But several sources say the get together wasn't the showdown/slugfest that some had anticipated. Instead of the blistering report and the reaction to it taking center stage, the focus was on the testing and training of lifeguards and what, if anything, the city needs to do to improve its longstanding practices.
In separate interviews this week, State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr, CB14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska and CB14 member and ad hoc Lifeguard/Beach Issues Committee Chairperson Dan Mundy said they're satisfied with their first sit-down with all the other key players involved, namely Councilmember Helen Foster, who chairs the council's Parks and Recreation Committee (She was universally credited with running a fair and productive meeting); First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh of the Department of Parks and Recreation; and Peter Stein, the president of Local 508 NYC Lifeguard Supervisors.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Quinn had representatives at the meeting, and DC37 also brought its counsel, Leonard Shrier, and the director of its Political Action Department, Wanda Williams and others to the table.
Pheffer, Addabbo, Gaska and Mundy said Parks and DC37 are considering several suggestions contained in CB14's report, but that no final decisions were reached at the meeting.
"Liam [Kavanagh] indicated that they're willing to look at the ad hoc committee's suggestions," said Gaska.
Each of The Wave's sources declined to say what specific changes were being weighed for reasons that Pheffer summed up succinctly: "It would be premature, it's negotiations," she said.
Kavanagh said he is hopeful that the meeting will help resolve some of the lifeguarding issues.
"We were pleased to attend this frank and open discussion and hope it will resolve some of the issues that have been raised over the past few months," Kavanagh told The Wave.
It appeared this week that everyone at the meeting agreed to play nice-y nice in public and with the press while progress is being made.
"The best thing that happened on Friday was that we didn't dwell on the past," said Addabbo. "Most people walked away with an optimistic view of the future of lifeguard training."
Gaska reached this conclusion: "You're not going to solve all of the problems in one or two meetings, but just the fact that we all sat down was a good thing."
A deadline and another meeting date haven't been set, but sources suggested that Parks would try to reach its conclusions before this year's lifeguard candidates are tested, which left Mundy and some of the others feeling like swimmers themselves.
"We're all just kind of holding our breath at this point," he said.
Stein and Williams did not return our call seeking comment for this story.