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Pool rule changes have officials at odds with parents, each other

By Corene Brisendine

A number of local parents were upset this week to learn of rule changes at city pools, specifically one requiring parents who are supervising their kids — not swimming or sunbathing — to pay the full admission fee.

Previously, parents or supervising adults wearing street clothes were allowed free of charge into local pools, which opened on Saturday. But city administrators this year have changed that rule so that anyone entering the pools’ gates must pay — and there is some disagreement about who authorized the changes.

Deputy City Manager and acting Director of Parks and Recreation Jason Hilgers said that on opening weekend, “it surprised me the number of parents who were surprised at the rule changes.”

Hilgers said it was the parks and rec department that brought the changes to the policy before the city commission in November.

But Commissioner Rich Jankovich said the commission neither heard nor passed any proposed rule changes.

“If it wasn’t on the agenda, we didn’t approve it,” he said.

Kelly Cook, aquatics supervisor, has another version of events. He said some commissioners came to him, former Director of Parks and Rec Curt Loupe, Assistant Director Eddie Eastes, and Recreation Superintendent Mike Buchanan, and told them to change the way people were being admitted into the pools by charging everyone - including adults who were just there to supervise.

During the Nov. 27 work session, commissioners received an update on the pools’ operating costs and policy practices. At that meeting, Loupe discussed policy changes affecting practice sessions for the Manhattan Marlins and shortening the hours for open swim but did not discuss changing practices governing allowing supervising parents into the pool for free, according to a video of that meeting.

At the meeting, Mayor John Matta told Loupe he needed to find ways to make the pools more profitable, but did not offer suggestions on how to do that. Loupe said that last year the pools fell short of their projected budget by about $160,000. Commissioner Wynn Butler said the department needed to find ways to make the pools more profitable and supported the proposed changes of charging the Marlins for practices, and shortening the open swim times in order to give people more opportunities to rent the pools for private parties.

During that same work session, the banning of floating lantern fireworks was also discussed, but unlike the pool discussion, the fireworks ban was brought back before the commission during a regular meeting as an item on the general agenda for formal approval. Commissioners do not make policy changes during work sessions, and they do not vote on any items.

Jankovich said he did not remember any sort of item on either the general agenda or the consent agenda in policy changes for the pools. He also said changes in policy are something the city commission would discuss and vote on. No items were on any agenda and no such action was taken between Nov. 27 and Saturday.

Additionally, former Mayor Loren Pepperd said he remembered some sort of discussion, but he did not remember any formal approval of policy changes.

Hilgers said the charging of supervising parents to enter the pools is a “philosophical shift” in policy. That shift began after the city hired Cook to supervise the pools. At the November work session, Loupe told commissioners Cook had changed how the department tracked pool attendance.

He said in previous years, the department only counted those people using the pool during open swim, and counted only those charged to swim. He said Cook began counting everyone who used the pool, including private parties, swim lessons, Marlins practices and others.

Hilgers said prior to the renovations of the pools, supervising parents were not charged to enter the pools because each of the pools had a “kiddie” pool for smaller children to play. He said with the creation of the splash park, the pool renovations removed those smaller pools and therefore negated the practice of allowing supervising parents in for free.

Cook said there were no formal rules governing the practice that it has been in place since before he came to the city. He said the staff has been “properly trained” to charge everyone entering the pool. He said allowing parents inside the gate to pick up children has also been banned. He said the staff should page the child rather than allowing anyone through the gate for free.

Hilgers said the pools are now being operated like water parks in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka where everyone is charged admission whether they actually get in the pool or not.

Cook said the rules are considered “an industry standard” and used by “any city that has installed a pool within the last 10 years.”

Since opening day, the city website has bold-faced and underlined the policy stating everyone will be charged admission to enter the pool. In addition, anyone leaving the pool would not be allowed to re-enter without paying again.

Hilgers said he has received numerous calls on the practice and informed citizens they may address the city commission during open public comment. He said commissioners have the power to change the policy. However, commissioners never formally approved any change in policy governing the practice in charging admission at the pools.

City commissioners meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the City Commission Room at City Hall, 1101 Poyntz Ave.

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