On Sept. 3, I hauled myself to the city commission meeting to visit with the governing body about our world famous "Big Pool." Unable to get on the agenda due to a Labor Day vacation, I requested time beyond the five minutes allotted to anyone who wants to address the group, explaining I would let them conduct any other business before hand if they desired.
The Commission at first agreed to this suggestion, but then reversed itself after an objection from Mr. Grisell, the city attorney. Even after I pointed out that Grisell is not a commissioner, and that they could listen to whomever they wished for how long, they reversed their decision and said I could have only five minutes. Not one of them spoke up to allow any further discussion of this proposed $20 million project. The city manager, Matt Allen, also sat mute, rather than concur with my thought that citizen input and getting answers to valid questions should always have more time to be considered.
My shock and disappointment at the treatment I received was not based on the 12 years I spent long ago on the commission, including two terms as mayor. Nor was it my 88 years, nor the struggle I had that windy, 100 degree day getting to the meeting using my walker. No, it was the realization that our elected commissioners are pulling the same garbage on others who have input or seek answers to valid questions of importance, especially when viewpoints differ from a perceived staff survey or conclusion. Getting time off from work during the day to talk with the commission is hard. And survey report meetings often allow little, if any time for questions, ideas and suggestions.
Governing bodies seem to be patting themselves on the back for allowing citizen input for all of five minutes. That is ridiculous! Most problems and projects require substantially more time just to explain why the party or parties are attending the meeting! It is good to see that our College Board of Trustees resumed allowing people to speak at their meetings. I sincerely hope USD 457 and the County Commission also allow adequate time for citizen input, with no absurd time limit!
In the instant case, the city is wasting our tax dollars paying big bucks to the contractor to gather information and ideas, even though the assistant manager has spent many hours doing the same thing! The contract also allows sub-contractors to be hired by the Confluence company, with no figures as to hourly rate. Thus, a private pool management company has now been hired by Confluence as a subcontractor to help determine the times the pool is to be open, number of employees, entrance fees to be charged, and events to be held. Why should we need outside help to make such decisions? And, of course, the latest cost estimates have now gone to a possible $30 million, not counting interest. And I believe a new bathhouse is in the works. That will mean all new decking, parking lots, sidewalks, etc. etc.
With some modestly costing re-plumbing for refilling purposes, we can continue the Big Pool in its present configuration and save millions of dollars we will otherwise have to borrow. Tearing out all the old plumbing and concrete walks, etc., will not be necessary. We have good slides and other fun things that should encourage all citizens to learn to swim to save their own lives and enjoy beneficial exercise. As a public pool, taxpayers need not provide all the "fancy do-dads" that privately owned and financed pools have, even if the kids want and would enjoy having them. Without incurring those costs, we can go back to a free admission policy.
Our Big Pool should be listed on the "National Registry of Civil Rights Activities" because of events that happened in the summer of 1950: Citizens in numerous churches signed petitions asking that the pool be open to all, including minorities who had previously been excluded. This project came from the Interdenominational Youth Council, who presented the petitions and ask the commission to honor citizen wishes. My first appearance before our commission was as president of that group. Other locals were influenced to join the effort and the pool was opened to all that September!
This was the first "civil rights action" in Kansas! Another important reason to redo, but not destroy and replace our Big Pool.
Please vote Nov. 5 for city commission candidates who will save the pool and not further burden us with millions of debt!
Duane West has lived in Garden City since 1940 and is a former mayor.