Death by a Thousand Cuts
Our Town’s government calls for the voters of the Town to elect 5 council members. Those council members elect a mayor. The council is responsible for the hiring of a Town Manager, who is provided an approved budget and is in charge of hiring, firing and the general functioning of the town.
It’s important to understand that the town manager controls the day-to-day functioning of the town. Department directors and staff report to the manager, not the council. Voters just approved a charter amendment (#12) that clarifies that council members must work though the manager and any interference directly with staff constitutes grounds for recall.
It’s become apparent in the last few months that our manager is desperately seeking ways to lower the costs of running our town and has set his sights on Bay Oaks as one way to do that.
In the last month Bay Oaks has lost a director and several key employees. Fired, allowed to resign or left of their free accord, we’re not going to quibble on the manner of their leaving, though encouraging their departure would play into some larger plan if someone were trying to weaken Bay Oaks.
There are no signs that any effort is being made to hire for any of those positions. Remaining staff are working hard to spread the duties of the departed staff among the remaining staff. Most of us have found ourselves in that sort of position in our work life. How well does that work out, especially as weeks turn into months of covering those duties?
Meanwhile, the group of citizens tasked with advising council on Bay Oaks, Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board or BORCAB, was a victim of council’s inability to decide what to do about advisory boards last fall. They weren’t sure which boards were helpful to them, and we suspect, didn’t especially like citizen boards that might disagree with them. But rather than make a decision to eliminate one or more of these citizen advisory boards, they did what council does a little too often – kick the can down the road. They made no appointments to BORCAB in October, and the membership of BORCAB dropped by about half as a result. Then followed several months of no meetings for what BORCAB members remained. They may not have meant to send this message, but what residents heard was that council was not interested in citizen advisory board input on Bay Oaks.
As residents learned of the departure of Parks & Rec Director Randy Norton and other staff, and heard about a proposal to close half of the Bay Oaks gym to create a storage garage for Town vehicles, they asked council to save Bay Oaks and reinstate BORCAB. Recently council did reappoint the BORCAB members that should have been reappointed last October. Last week they held their first meeting of 2016.
Our town manager has stated several times that he does not think that BORCAB should have any input into decisions regarding what happens to Bay Oaks until after staff and council has developed a plan. Council disagreed with him, seemingly understanding what ‘advisory’ means and how important citizen input is to how our Town functions.
At their recent meeting, BORCAB heard again that one option still on the table for Bay Oaks is to close half the gym to provide vehicle storage space. BORCAB members were just as horrified at that prospect as council had been. The town manager persists in keeping it on the table.
One complaint offered frequently is how expensive Bay Oaks is to run. How it doesn’t bring in enough money to cover its costs.
Municipal rec centers are not moneymakers. Anywhere. They are a service to the residents of the community. This is one of the things residents pay taxes for.
Does Public Works bring in enough money to cover their costs? No, but those costs are covered by the taxes we all pay. They provide a service that residents want.
Why should Bay Oaks be treated differently?
Bay Oaks is not a luxury gym or spa, it’s a basic rec center that provides important services to the residents of our island, especially families and seniors. Summer camp, after school care, flag football, basketball, pickleball, yoga, exercise…the list of what is offered through Bay Oaks is long. At least it has been long. With fewer staff, that is bound to change.
One sure way to damage a program is to remove staff and not replace them. As staff drops, programs are sure to suffer. Participation will then lag. And then as sure as the sun rises in the east, we’ll be hearing about how poorly Bay Oaks programs are doing, people aren’t using it; it’s not worth the money the town spends on it. You can’t cut off the water supply and then complain that the grass is brown. Removing staff and not replacing them is just another blow to Bay Oaks. Death by a thousand cuts.
Can we live without Bay Oaks? Sure we can, but do we want to? What would its absence mean to the quality of life on Fort Myers Beach?
The primary questions Fort Myers Beach residents need to ask themselves are – Do you want to have Bay Oaks Rec Center remain a part of our community? Do you think it’s important to our quality of life?
If your answers are yes, you’d best speak up now because while there are denials aplenty about how no one Is proposing doing away with Bay Oaks, the “options” our manager is intent in keeping on the table will surely cripple it.
If council does want to keep Bay Oaks as a vibrant community center, they need to send a very clear message to the manager now, because it seems he’s looking for ways to balance the budget on the backs of our kids’ and seniors’ programs at Bay Oaks.