The Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula has gained approval to begin its second stint at operating the Kenai Recreation Center over protests by the Friends of the Kenai Recreation Center group.
The Kenai City Council on Wednesday night voted unanimously to award a two-year management contract for the center to the Boys and Girls Club. The center will be reopened by Dec. 1, after the club completes a hiring process, said Peter Micciche, president of the Boys and Girls Club's board of directors.
"It's obvious that the people of Kenai take the rec center very seriously," Micciche said. "We also take the management of the rec center very seriously."
The council awarded a similar contract to the club May 21, but the city decided to close the center July 10 after members of the Friends group sued and got a court order prohibiting the city from continuing the contract with the club.
In the nearly four intervening months, the city has revised its code to remedy the legal trouble it found itself in and advertised a Request For Qualifications from anyone interested in managing the center. The city's administration got three responses to the RFQ, rated them and recommended the Boys and Girls Club to the council as the highest-ranking respondent.
Members of the Friends group voiced their displeasure about awarding the contract to the Boys and Girls Club during the Wednesday meeting. Kristine Schmidt of Kenai called the process a sham.
"If this had been a fair process the Boys and Girls Club would not have gotten the contract," she said.
Schmidt, Cliff Massie and Bob Molloy, also of Kenai, listed several reasons for their discontent, including that the meeting agenda and information about the contract were not available to the public soon enough before the meeting, the RFQ process did not include objective criteria, the contract was not well written, the Boys and Girls Club requires rec center users to become members and there was not enough opportunity for the public to have a say in how the center will operate under the club.
Several of these points were addressed during the meeting.
The meeting agenda was posted on the city's Web site Friday afternoon, and information regarding the facility management contract was available at city hall Friday, said City Attorney Cary Graves. The Friday before a Wednesday council meeting is the standard time such information is made public.
The club does require all users of the center to fill out a membership form, but there is no cost involved. The requirement is for insurance purposes, Micciche said. The club's insurance company requires it to keep track of the center's users, so the club requires everyone to fill out a form with information like names, addresses and emergency contacts, he said.
Its contract with the city requires the Boys and Girls Club to hold an annual meeting in January in which members of the public can voice their opinions on the past and future operation of the center.
One meeting a year where the public can have a say isn't enough, Molloy said.
Kenai Mayor John Williams responded that the city's administration will have oversight over the contract and discussed having the Parks and Recreation Commission monitor the center's operation.
Micciche added that the Boys and Girls Club is open to the public's ideas and said the club would like to meet with the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Friends group.
"We honestly need your help to make this work," Micciche said. "We're wide open and we request your participation. ... We're looking forward to hearing from shareholders about how to help with providing the best programs we can to meet their needs."
The plan to privatize the management of the rec center came about as a cost-saving measure in a tight city budget. Throughout the process to award a facility management contract for the center, the city's administration and council has maintained that the goal of having an outside group run the center is to provide the same services the city provided but at a lower cost to the city. In Wednesday's meeting, Finance Director Larry Semmens estimated the city will save $74,000 by having the club run the center.
The rec center will be one of other city-owned facilities in Kenai, including the fire training center and Multipurpose Facility, that are managed by private groups. Council member Blaine Gilman remarked that, though the rec center issue has been contentious, he would like to see other facilities and city services outsourced to save the city more money.
Williams acknowledged that the community has been divided by the rec center issue, but he believes the October election showed Kenai citizens supported the council's actions because council candidates who supported the privatization of the rec center's management or awarding the management contract to the Boys and Girls Club were elected over candidates who opposed the measure.
"I felt the constituency of the city of Kenai has vindicated the council and administration's position through the results of the just passed election," he said Thursday.
In what he sees as an effort to move past divisions caused by the rec center issue, Williams planned to attend a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. to hold a discussion with commissioners. Depending on how that discussion goes, he said he plans to ask for one and possibly two of the commissioners to resign. The commission has opposed awarding the rec center management contract to the Boys and Girls Club since the issue started being discussed earlier this year, though it did not review or publicly comment on the new contract.
"You have to have a team effort to run an organization like this," Williams said. "When a member of an appointed commission that serves at the will of the council is diametrically opposed to the philosophy presented by the council, it's probably time they should consider other endeavors."
In other action Wednesday, the council:
n Amended and adopted the city's comprehensive plan.
n Accepted a $7,800 in grants for the library from the state.
n Amended the city code to allow for the solicitation and award of construction contracts by competitive sealed proposal.
n Accepted a $1,585 grant from the state for the city's planning department staff to attend training regarding historic preservation. The grant was a 60-40 matching grant so the city paid $1,056.34.
n Awarded a snow removal contract at the airport terminal to Tuff Construction for the 2003-2004 winter season at a cost of $25 per hour.
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