News

Staff close pool in protest

Don’t expect to go swimming Friday.

The 36 or so staff members of the Vanderzicht Memorial Pool are closing the pool and will be standing out front, handing out fliers, in protest of the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District commissioners’ decision not to renew Park Director Jim Shulock’s contract.

Ironically, the commissioners have asked one of the leaders of the protest, Head Swim Coach Sally MacLaren-Meuer, to act as the interim director after Shulock leaves at the end of the month. A special board meeting to pick an interim administrator is scheduled for Monday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at the pool on SE Jerome Street.

The district’s elected board of commissioners failed to renew Shulock’s contract during a heated and disorderly meeting last Tuesday. Three commissioners — Janet Sabalausky, Brien Lillquist and Fred Smyth — effectively fired Shulock by simply not voting to renew his contract.

Commissioners T. J. Harmon and Harvey Prosser both stormed out of the meeting after angrily denouncing the other commissioners. They both pointed out that Shulock had received a positive performance review moments before. Shulock and several audience members lost their tempers and hurled insults at the three board members.

Also mixed up in the controversy is money. There has been ongoing friction between the commissioners and pool users about whether the district should fund projects and activities outside the pool. Shulock went against the majority of the board by arguing that no significant dollars should be spent on other projects until all the pool concerns are fixed. The commissioners recently voted 4-1 to contract with the Boys and Girls Club for $20,000 worth of youth programs. The district’s annual income is approximately $650,000.

Among those most upset about Shulock’s unceremonious job loss are the staff members, mostly part-time young people, at the pool. They recently had a meeting, Mac-Laren-Meuer said, and unanimously decided to stage a protest by not working for a day. There will be employees out front all day Friday to hand out fliers and talk to patrons.

“We are protesting the commissioners’ decision not to renew the director’s contract,” the hand-out states. “We collectively think this is wrong and find the way it was done inappropriate. We do not want to inconvenience the patrons, but feel this is the only way to get the commissioners’ attention.”

Commissioner Sabalausky said Tuesday she was disappointed in the staff for taking this route, especially since the commissioners have always felt the staff was “of the utmost quality.” She said the staff members are being misled into believing that the commissioners don’t know how much the staff supports Shulock, which she said the board fully realizes.

“Unfortunately, his communication style is just not compatible with the future of the district,” she said.

Smyth had no comment about the protest. Lillquist couldn’t be reached.

Merrie Pickens, aquatic program coordinator, said she also supports the protest day. She said the staff’s support of Shulock speaks volumes about the job he has done.

“We’ve got a director whose staff is behind him,” she said, “who’s got a lot of major projects completed, got us through some major catastrophes and kept the budget in the black the whole time.”

While MacLaren-Meuer admits there have been “personality conflicts” between Shulock and certain commissioners, she said she’s especially unhappy about the “bizarre” way the board went about getting rid of him.

“The way it was done was under-handed,” she said, pointing out that the three commissioners didn’t explain their decision to the public.

Pickens said the staff members are also upset about the way the commissioners have treated the public at meetings. One time, she said, a commissioner told an elderly lady in the public to “sit down and shut up.” She said she hopes the public awareness will force the commissioners to simply treat people better.

While MacLaren-Meuer said she thinks organizing the protest could affect her ability to get the interim position, she said she felt it was important to stand up. But she emphasized that the staff chose to protest in a controlled, quiet manner.

“We want to be professional about this,” she said. “We are trying to do this without any yelling and screaming.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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