By LIZ BUTTON
American Leisure, the company hired by Rye Golf Club to staff and operate its pool this summer, was abruptly replaced by a new company halfway through the season due to continued problems with the company’s performance.
The situation sparked concerns from some members that City Manager Scott Pickup did not allow for sufficient input from the Rye Golf Club Commission during the hiring process, rushing into signing a contract with American Leisure. The prospect is concerning considering the club’s financial losses are due in part to a dearth of oversight provided for in the club’s managerial structure, which allowed six years of financial fraud by the former club manager, Scott Yandrasevich, to go on unchecked.
The pool company based out of Nanuet, which was contracted to handle lifeguards, chlorine and filtration, and other environmental issues, was a disaster during its tenure at the city-owned club, according to club members and golf club commissioners.
With five weeks left until the end of the club’s pool season‑which lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day‑the golf club commission saw complaints accumulate to an uncomfortable level that peaked after a brutal heat wave in July during which the pool was forced to close when only four lifeguards were on duty at one point, according to sources at the pool.
Continuing issues of poor filtration, insufficient supervision and murky water culminated with the firing of the company’s certified pool operator in late July. According to one Rye Golf club member and frequent pool user, “The certified pool operator did absolutely nothing.” She said the lifeguards had no instruction, and she never saw the CPO vacuum the pool or hose down the decks.
In May, City Manager Pickup hired American Leisure for $169,413 to work the entire summer and contracted for seven lifeguards with an extra guard for use at peak times.
The ensuing complaints reached critical mass and Gary Gallante, Rye Golf Club’s facilities manager, announced at the commission’s July 24 meeting that the city was in talks with a new company, United Fitness Sports and Pools, to take over. At that point, the city had already paid American Leisure around $120,000 toward its contract.
On July 29, interim golf club manager Jim LoPolito signed a contract with United Fitness to cover the rest of the season for $77,653. LoPolito took the interim manager job in January to run the entire club, including the restaurant, the golf course and the pool, although all final decisions are made by the city.
While City Attorney Kristen Wilson was in discussions with American Leisure’s attorney regarding termination as early as Aug. 1, the company was still instructing lifeguards to report to their posts at the club through Sunday afternoon, Aug. 4, when Wilson sent a letter to American Leisure’s attorney informing them that their contract had been terminated and that they should not send employees to work the following day.
But around 6 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 5, the day United’s contract became effective and the new company was scheduled to start, American Leisure’s lifeguards also showed up to work. In the ensuing confusion, an individual called Rye Police who compelled the American Leisure staff to leave the premises.
At this point, Wilson said, the transition between the two companies is “a work in progress.”
There are no set terms yet, Wilson said, but the city would like find a way to amicably end the relationship. The city’s position is that American Leisure should be paid for services rendered and nothing more, nothing less.
“We would rather not have to litigate,” she said, “But we are optimistic that we can work out something that makes sense.”
Current golf club commissioner Art Tiedemann, who began his term in November 2012, said the pool was run differently when he was pool director up until 2005, after which the club hired outside companies to run the pool. Tiedemann called American Leisure’s contract for seven guards “barebones staffing.”
At the time the club was still run by Yandrasevich, he hired American Pool for the 2012 summer for $193,000 for 17 lifeguards, including a head lifeguard, a pool manager and an assistant pool manager. Yandrasevich was dismissed after it was discovered that he had allegedly been lining his own pockets with the club membership’s money for more than six years using shell staffing companies.
The former club manager is now under criminal investigation by the Westchester District Attorney’s office after his activities were unearthed by residents and club members and then summed up in a Feb. 27 report by an independent financial firm hired by the city.
According to Rye Golf Club Commissioner Angela Sposato, the commissioners saw the different pool company proposals as well as the agreement after it had been negotiated and “pushed back on a few things.” In particular, she said, the commission wanted more lifeguards and more control by city staff.
“We all raised concerns,” Sposato said. “I think American Leisure wanted the contract and so they came in lower than the exact same services as the other venders.”
So, she said, while the commission could ask the city to take it under advisement to choose a certain company, the city manager has the final say.
At its March 20 meeting, the golf commission issued a vote of no confidence against Pickup, who signed more than half of the $7 million in purchase orders submitted by Yandrasevich without being aware they were fraudulent.
Since the golf club scandal unfolded, the City Council, golf club members and the public agreed that more oversight was needed over the club’s financial and managerial activities.
At the City Council’s Aug. 5 meeting, Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, presented a proposal on how the club should be run. The document, which incorporated feedback from the public, the club commission, club members and city staff, suggested that the commission report to the City Council instead of the city manager, but still work “in conjunction” with the city manager.
But Republican Councilman Joe Sack, a mayoral candidate, said that it was premature to put changes to management structures in writing and questioned why the commission had not had greater or timelier involvement in the process with the city manager when it came to hiring American Leisure in the first place. Sack said he is in favor of retaining a permanent full-time club manager.
Pickup responded that the club was in a crunch to get a pool contract underway for 2013 because of continuing discussions with the club’s pool committee about a new management structure involving locally recruited lifeguards that could be put in place for next summer. However, he said, the commission was in agreement regarding the city’s initial choice of American Leisure as well as the decision to fire them due to performance issues.
“The performance of a contractor is always going to be a concern or a question,” Pickup said. “Quite frankly, while we’re not happy with the contractor’s results, we are happy about how ultimately we worked together to try and solve problems.”