Just as we were about to sing the praises of Youngstown city government after reading the story Wednesday about the two public swimming pools opening for the season on time, we picked up Thursday’s Vindicator and were immediately reminded of that old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” — especially when applied to the public sector.
Borts Pools on the city’s West Side was forced to close 45 minutes after it opened when a back flow pump broke. Fortunately, there were no swimmers that day because of the cold. The pool, which became the symbol of government incompetence in 2006 when it was shut down for 22 days in the midst of a heat wave in late July, will be out of commission for two weeks while another pump is custom-made.
To his credit, Jason Whitehead, acting director of the Youngstown Park Department and chief of staff/secretary to Mayor Jay Williams, took immediate responsibility for the breakdown. Whitehead, who received high praise in this space last year when he directed the opening of the new North Side Pool and ensured that Borts had a problem-free season, explained that during the fall and winter months maintenance had been undertaken and the pump’s condition was discussed. It was the opinion of those in the know that a new one was not urgently needed.
However, on Tuesday, the day before Borts and North Side opened for the season, a problem was discovered which city maintenance workers attempted to fix. They stopped work about 45 minutes after the opening Wednesday afternoon. But unlike 2006 when hundreds of residents, mostly children, were seeking wet relief from the sizzling temperatures, the relatively cold weather kept the swimmers away.
The forecast for the next two weeks calls for the mercury to rise; the reopening of Borts should coincide with the return of temperatures in the 80s.
North Side Pool, on the other hand, has begun to attract a steady stream of customers. Business will undoubtedly pick up in the coming weeks.
Last year, in commenting on the opening of the pool on the northeast corner of Belmont Avenue and Tod Lane, we applauded Mayor Williams’ decision to name Whitehead to replace long-time park director Joseph J. McRae, and added this:
“ ... city officials have earned our praise — albeit qualified — and the appreciation of Youngstown residents who have been sweltering.”
We explained the use of the word qualified by noting that city government’s record for maintaining public facilities is not good.
While we fully understand that availability of money dictates the prioritizing of projects, we need to reiterate a point we have made often: There was a time not so long ago that the city operated six swimming pools, which is why taxpayers find it incomprehensible that the two that remain can’t be opened on time and operated without major problems.
Acting park director Whitehead must know that residents who supported a charter amendment giving the mayor authority over the park department expect Borts to be up and running in two weeks. And, for both the swimming pools to be open through the season.