2007-11-09 / Front Page

CB14: Lifeguard Meeting Snub 'Deliberate'

For more than two years, Community Board 14 has called on the City Council to review the Parks Department's "flawed" hiring process that puts lifeguards on Rockaway beaches each summer and that has, for the past few years, left many of those beaches closed on hot, summer weekends.

Last week, the City Council's Committee on Parks and Recreation finally responded, by announcing that a hearing will be held early next week to oversee and review the hiring process and address the Rockaway community's allegations of harassment and bias.

The only problem, Rockaway officials say, is that nobody told them about the meeting, and they say that the general belief is that the snub was a deliberate attempt to keep Rockaway in the dark on this critical issue.

Officials at the community board, for example, the group that brought the charges against the city agency, say they were never told about the hearing being held by The Committee on Parks and Recreation on Tuesday, November 13.

Jonathan Gaska, the community board's District Manager, told The Wave that he is upset at the fact that the board has been requesting this hearing of the committee, but was not notified that it was going to be held. He says that he is more angered by the snub than surprised.

"Normally we get notice of all city hearings," Gaska said. "I am not surprised though, considering we are still waiting for over a year for the Parks Department to respond to a letter from us."

The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, November 13, at 10:00 a.m. at 250 Broadway, on the sixteenth floor. The announced topic on the agenda is, "Oversight: The Department of Parks and Recreation's Lifeguard Program."

After getting reports that lifeguard candidates from Rockaway were being treated unfairly, the com- munity board formed a Parks Committee to investigate and communicate with city officials about the problem.

Dan Mundy, chairperson of that committee, agrees with Gaska that CB14 and the community were intentionally left out when the announcement of the hearing was sent out.

"We have been trying to get the city council to hold hearings about this," Mundy said. "No one told us, and it was intentionally done so we don't show up and testify against the Parks Department."

Mundy found the meeting announcement on the city council log and was immediately furious about the lack of notification. He feels it will be extremely difficult to get the community organized on such short notice.

"It will be difficult to mobilize on such short notice," Mundy said. "It is also on a weekday, so that is not good either, but we have to show up and testify about what has happened."

Gaska feels the same way.

"Perhaps it was intentional," Gaska said. "We were not told by anyone from the city, Parks Department, or local elected officials."

Rockaway's City, Councilman, Joseph Addabbo Jr, is on the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and even aided CB14 in requesting the hearing.

Both Mundy and Gaska believe that Addabbo knew of the meeting and deliberately never told local officials or community activists.

Addabbo disagrees with their assessment.

"It was nothing intentional at all," Addabbo said. "These City Council hearings are rescheduled all the time; I wanted to confirm that the meeting will definitely be held."

Addabbo said that he will notify Gaska and Mundy early this week, once the hearing is confirmed, because the hearings are often postponed. He also applauded the efforts of Gaska and Mundy in rectifying the lifeguard issues.

He wants local residents to attend the meeting and speak their piece.

"I hope Mundy can get everyone to come," he said. "They should testify and say how they feel, that is what these hearings are for."

The accusations against the Parks Department lifeguard testing program began in the summer of 2006, when The Wave first reported that many Rockaway lifeguard applicants were turned down for positions because of undisclosed reasons and felt they were treated unfairly during their testing.

Mundy, a former lifeguard who trained 10 of the local would-be lifeguards in 2006, feels there was a definite bias against the Rockaway group by lifeguard officials.

"The group was targeted for failure," Mundy said back in 2006. "The Department of Parks and Recreation and NYC Lifeguard Supervisors union do not want decentralization in their system."

Mundy's comments refer to a program created in part by Addabbo, in conjunction with Community School Board 27, which brought a new lifeguard development program to the area that trained teens at four area schools, including Far Rockaway and John Adams High Schools. The program was funded by the Department of Education and other local elected officials, and was meant to aid lifeguard recruiting by providing testing and training prior to the beginning of the department's formal program in October of 2005.

The suspicion that there was bias in the testing program, however, didn't come to light until Mundy observed the testing process and noticed the kids were consistently beating the clock by seconds when he timed them, but still failed according to lifeguard supervisors, who refused to share the finish times with any of the applicants.

Gaska urges anybody who has been negatively impacted by the city's lifeguard hiring program to attend the Tuesday hearing.

By Nicholas Briano

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