From Christopher Boardman:
JOPPATOWNE RESIDENTS THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES IN POOL CONTROVERSY
The Joppatowne Community Council recently hosted a meeting in which the Save the Pool Committee ran the meeting. When it was clear the pool committee would not allow comments from the floor except for written questions, I left the meeting. This is not the way the community council works, but the pool committee clearly didn’t want to answer some of the questions and deal with some of the issues that have long simmered in the community.
Frequently in recent months I have heard the criticism that the previous owner, a Mr. Stephens, did not inform the community that the pool was for sale, and he sold it to a black Southern Baptist Church congregation. Now a lot of residents are upset about that and they are citing traffic and overcrowding concerns, while denying that there is any racism in their opposition to the church moving into the community. I’ll accept that for what it is but the majority of residents in Joppatowne don’t want to buy the pool property themselves and they also want to make it hard for anyone else to buy it either. At least the Southern Baptist Church people saw the value in the property and are willing to pay for it. that is a lot more than can be said for the citizens of Joppatowne.
But before I get to that point, I would like to speculate on why Mr. Stephens sold the property without informing the community. I think he must have been angry with the community for not adequately supporting it while he was the owner. He ran a good operation, but the property likely did not generate enough revenue to make it profitable. During his ownership also there were no pool parties, which were good fund raisers and they served valid community events and needs. It takes a lot of sources of income to keep a property like that going. That may never have been because as I found out as the president of the community organization that owned the pool in the early 1990’s, residents of the nearby condominiums would complain about noise and music in the evenings when there were parties. If there was anything as unpleasant as having sheriff’s deputies show up in the middle of a party that was well-run and orderly, it was that. Yet those condominium residents moved into the neighborhood long after the pool had become established and when there were occasional parties. But this was just one of the ugly things that happened.
The property is a beautiful one, the pool is a regulation-size pool and the site has served the community since the 1960’s. As Councilman Dion Guthrie has been advocating, the property needs to be kept in the community and for community uses. It is the last piece of community property in the center of town and the community has grown substantially over the years. In addition, many new and existing uses have been identified for the property. Guthrie’s ideas are right on target but it’s hard for him or anybody to gain the initiative because of all the negative things that were done in the past.
As I told one of the pool committee board members last summer, that property would already have been bought and paid for at least 17 years ago if the community had backed a proposal to assess a one-time $300 charge in 1992 to acquire the property for the community. the plan would have charged Joppatowne residents $9 per month for three years!! and the acquisition would have already been paid off. There would not be any of these arguments about other organizations gaining control if the community had people in the community done it. But people screamed so loudly, they complained to then-County Executive Eileen Rehrmann and they made the whole matter into a personal issue–I was taking advantage of the situation, etc. etc. So we backed off and let the families that would spend $300 put their money out to become sustaining members. We were able to get enough money to open the pool and keep it open for two years before the money ran out. The county flat-out would not help us. Yet county legislators obtained money from the state for Aberdeen to acquire a city pool, even though Aberdeen as an incorporated municipality had the taxing authority to finance their pool themselves. The county government and the county’s legislators told us to take a hike.
Councilwoman Susan Heselton was no help whatsoever. She might even have worked to undercut us during that time; she nor Rehrmann ever came to the pool to catch up on events and wish us well. I am sorry that I must have been such a threat to her and the executive. But what happened as we are learning to our sorrow now is that the community threw away its best opportunity to acquire the property.
After 1994 our organization sold the property to a pool operating company, and through a succession of owners the pool remained open for the community for another 20 years. When we re=opened in 1992, our volunteers through their hard work efforts and love of the community did a great number of things that were part of the ongoing 20 additional years. the plumbing in the bathhouse was fixed, the building was painted, the tiles around the perimeter of the pool were replaced and re-set, the kitchen was refurbished by one family and many of us took our turns mowing and trimming the extensive grass. In addition, after arranging for concrete companies to contribute concrete that had been mixed but was not needed for higher-paying projects, our volunteers did the difficult work of setting concrete sections that needed to be replaced and repaired. One of our members was a mason and helped direct a lot of these kinds of activities.
As publisher of a community newspaper The Towne Crier I was able to give a lot of publicity to the project with the help and support of our advertisers when The Aegis was often too slow to respond in order to assist us. The Sun , however, was very supportive. In addition, we had two artists pain a large mural of fish swimming on one of our walls. The marina across the street lent its equipment and operator to help us remove large chunks of concrete.
Yet the county was decidedly unfriendly, and we still have that situation. The current Save the Pool committee members apparently think the county is going to rescue them. Now the price of the property is at least $700,000 and the price could go even higher. We were able to buy the property for $300,000 and we were willing to give it to the community or to the county. For shame! If the property is somehow re-acquired it will cost much more. Even though the county can afford to pay for it, as we found out last winter the executive was a fickle and unreliable partner to say the least. And there are a lot of other people who need to be paid as well: teachers, school employees and sheriff’s deputies.
Yet the current pool committee is not doing any fund raising. Why not? As a famous person once said, “Money talks, and B.S. walks.” We raised $250,000; of that about $35,000 went to the seller while the rest went for renovations and operating expenses. Of course, it will cost a lot more money now. That is why I am upset when I hear people complain about an organization that wants to invest in the property (even though it is for other things we don’t want).. The people who live here don’t see the intrinsic value of this property and they are not willing to put any money where their mouths are…