2007-12-21 / Community

Lifeguard Ally Meets With Rockaway Activists

By Nicholas Briano

If The City Council Parks Committee oversight hearing on the lifeguard issues involving Rockaway's six miles of beaches didn't accomplish anything else, it certainly created an ally up north in the Bronx.

Bronx Democratic City Councilmember, Oliver Koppell, was so impressed by the testimony of many Rockaway residents last month at the City Council hearing that he requested to meet with them privately at his City Hall office to get to the root of the lifeguard problems that include issues ranging from favoritism, testing bias, and part-time lifeguards.

Last Thursday, Koppell invited and met with Community Board District Manager, Jonathan Gaska, veteran lifeguard, Janet Fash, and Community Board 14 members, Dan Mundy and Hank Iori.

According to Gaska, the Councilmember met with the group for an hour, discussed the testimony from last month's hearing in detail, and displayed strong support for the group, stating that he admired their efforts. Gaska, however thought that the meeting would provide some answers to their ongoing struggle.

"We didn't really accomplish anything," Gaska said. "He is clearly on our side though, and said he will continue working close to the issue."

Gaska also said that the people of Rockaway just want fair practices throughout, starting with testing that will employ the best lifeguards in the city.

"The bottom-line is public safety," Gaska said. "We just want the best lifeguards on our beaches."

In order to achieve that, however, many Rockaway activists and Koppell feel there has to be some improvements in policy and enforcement, which includes part-time lifeguards.

"We have plenty of people in the area that are qualified and can work a few days a week," Gaska said. "This needs to be done now while the new lifeguard contract is being negotiated."

Gaska also suggested that the mayor try a pilot program to test the effectiveness of employing lifeguards parttime. It will get more lifeguards on the beaches and prevent the closings that Rockaway typically sees on weekdays early and late in the summer One thing Gaska, does know however, is that Koppell is clearly on Rockaway's side.

Koppell, a former lifeguard himself, preceded the meeting with Gaska and others with a letter to the mayor just following the conclusion of the oversight hearing on November 13. In that letter he requested the immediate resignations of lifeguard program coordinator, Richard Sher, a top official for Local 508 Lifeguard Supervisors Union, and Chief Lifeguard, Peter Stein. He believes this is necessary because New York City's lifeguard crisis goes well beyond the shortage of guards each summer, but deeper into the flawed hiring and training processes riddled with bias and corruption towards hundreds of candidates each year.

Dan Mundy, also present, felt the meeting was odd, because he thought that steps would have been taken in response to the letter Koppell mailed to Mayor Bloomberg's office over a month ago.

"It was odd because we didn't really know why we were going there," Mundy said. "We were hoping he had some good news."

Even though Mundy didn't necessarily hear what he had hoped for, optimism still reigns that Koppell will continue to work closely with the City Council and aid in the clean up of the alleged corruption of the Parks Department and their leaders.

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