Pool Crisis Averted; Publicity Gained
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and prominent class-action attorney Stan Chesley teamed up this week to raise $140,000 in private donations to keep city swimming pools open this summer.
Due to a budget crunch, the pools were scheduled to begin closing for the summer as early as this Friday, which, as Mallory’s press release points out, would leave “many Cincinnati youth and families without access to pools during the hottest month of the summer.”
Mallory learned of the dilemma Tuesday, in a memo he received from the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC). Jim Garges, the CRC’s director, requested an emergency appropriation of $112,000 from city council to keep the pools open. The extra cash would keep all 39 city-owned pools open for one additional week and would keep 11 city pools open until Aug. 18, the Friday before the public school year starts.
City council, however, is on summer break and doesn’t meet again until Aug. 2.
Mallory and Chesley used their extensive social connections and began making telephone calls to local corporations and individuals, eventually raising $140,000 for the cause. Also, Mallory had the CRC waive its pool pass requirement, meaning anyone can use the pools.
Certainly, no one begrudges the charitable impulses of Mallory and Chesley, who are taking their time to get involved and solicit donations. Still, the situation begs several questions of a broader nature.
At the risk of sounding like a humbug (or imposing some logic — take your pick), why wasn’t enough money included in the CRC’s budget to operate the pools all summer long? Mallory and council passed an adjusted budget for 2006 last December. At the time, they lauded the accelerated approval process, saying the mayor and council members had been working behind the scenes to build a consensus around the spending plan.
A similar scrambling for money happens every spring for the city’s summer youth employment program. Although council considers it a priority, members routinely wait until the last minute to secure funding, creating a “crisis” that captures headlines.
In many residents’ minds, the pools should be one of the city’s top recreational priorities. For youth in poorer, inner-city neighborhoods, many of who don’t have back yards and live without air conditioning, the pools provide a much-needed respite from the heat and humidity.
With statistics showing crime often increases in hot months, providing youth with activities to fill their time is in the city’s best interest.
Also, Chesley often makes millions of dollars from a single case. In 2001 he received $20.5 million in fees from a settlement in a Kentucky case involving the drug fen-phen. When figures like that are bandied about, couldn’t Chesley have donated the entire amount and perhaps written it off as a tax deduction?
However, whether that scenario would have resulted in a mayoral press release isn’t clear.
This isn’t the first trouble the CRC had with its pools this summer. As reported in CityBeat’s July 19 “Porkopolis” column, the city didn’t open the pool at English Woods this summer. The closure was because of the “housing being permanently closed,” a CRC official wrote in a letter. That’s news to the 173 children and more than 500 adults still living there, in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods
In Mallory’s press release, the mayor states, “Keeping our pools open is vital to the quality of life in Cincinnati in the summer. In the future, we are going to have to look at all of our options to ensure that CRC has the funding necessary to run the pools all summer.”
Check back here next summer for an update.
— Kevin Osborne