Albia City Hall

It wasn’t the smoothest Albia City Council meeting ever held as the mayor, council, Monroe County Aquatic Center supervisor Bill Murphy and lifeguard director Dan Walker suffered over whether or not to open the facility this summer. In the end, a vote to open or close was postponed for at least two weeks to see where the governor would go with her recommendations.

Mayor Richard Clark reasserted his position that the city would follow the governor’s guidelines on pool openings, allowing only lap swimming and lessons at this time.

Murphy had major input into the discussion. “I think it will be very hard to enforce the guidelines from the CDC,” he said. “Right now bath houses (restrooms) can’t be open and I don’t know how you manage letting just lap swimmers in.

“I’d love to have the pool opened, but at this point it’s high risk.”

Then Murphy described how he would be managing the physical part of the pool in the next month, which ultimately allowed the council some wiggle room in their ultimate decision.

Murphy said to ensure the mechanical health of the pool, he would be operating the pumps and adding chlorine to the water until July 1.

That opened up a “what if” discussion led by Dennis Conley, Brandon Williams and Cathy Mobley. Williams had information from the city of Washington that had created a sort of mobilization plan for opening their pool by July 1 if the governor loosened her guidelines. It included allowing up to 150 people in the pool at any given time.

Conley and Mobley both discussed the fact that the Beach in Ottumwa was reopening this week to lap swimming and swim lessons. Conley said Albia’s aquatic center was never a profit center, losing up to $60,000 a year and asked if the city would lose any more than that if they were able to open in another month.

Apparently concession stands might be able to be opened with individual wrapped foods, but it was doubtful the concession stands would make any money if they were opened.

Merle Regenold maintained that June would be the busiest month and with other things (4-H fair and state fair) going on in July and August, numbers would start to drop, adding to the financial strain.

The issue of cleaning the restrooms every hour, as well as hiring staff were discussed at length. Dan Walker, who for years has trained the lifeguarding crew, said he needed to start training lifeguards now to prepare for a possible opening. He also discussed the fact that chlorine was a disinfectant and that with summer heat, a disinfectant vapor actually rose above the water.

Mobley said the Beach in Ottumwa was more of a COVID-19 hotspot than Albia. “I’m a kid advocate,” she said. “What if the governor opens things up and we don’t have the pool up and running?”

Councilman Scott Kelley was concerned about social distancing children at the pool. “You can’t have them horsing around like kids do,” he said. City Attorney Bob Breckenridge said he wasn’t sure the six-foot distancing would apply to people in the water because of the disinfectant nature of chlorinated water.

Major Clark shared his concern over staffing the pool and having former staff members and lifeguards holding on to the hope of opening the pool instead of finding summer work elsewhere. He also said most cities around Albia were not opening their pools for the summer.

In a first round of concensus voting, the council was deadlocked 3-3 with Williams, Conley and Mobley voting to not immediately close the pool and Gene Behrens, Regenold and Kelley saying they favored closing it now. A passionate argument ensued, placing Murphy in the middle of a decision-making process he didn’t want any part of. “I’m one bad day away from retirement,” he said. “Don’t put me in the middle of this.”

“All we’re asking,” said Williams, “if Bill is preparing the pool anyway, is to wait a couple of weeks and take another look at it.”

Newspaper Publisher Dave Paxton, attending his first meeting in person in two months, was asked directly by the mayor what he thought. “I attended a hospital board meeting last week where CEO Veronica Fuhs said at first they were asked to be flexible and now they need to be fluid. I think I’d let this thing ride for a couple of weeks.”

That became the compromise moving ahead. Walker was given permission to begin training lifeguards using bag valve masks for CPR training and seeing if changes might occur from the governor’s office. Murphy will continue to work the pumps, chlorinate and do other pre-opening work.

More on the council meeting in next week’s newspaper including an outline of duties for a proposed Code Enforcement Officer, storm sewer repair in the cemetery, pending court cases and food truck regulations.

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