The Wellington Village Council extended its contract with Wellington Tennis Center Director Tommy Cheatham for another year last week in order to assure a smooth transition to the new tennis center, currently under construction.
At the Nov. 25 meeting, Business Services Manager Ed De La Vega said the tennis center management and maintenance contract is due to expire with the opening of the new tennis center on Lyons Road slated to be ready in May 2015.
De La Vega asked the council for its input on putting out a request for proposals.
Councilman Matt Willhite said he wanted to be sure that details about the operation of the facility are not overlooked. “My concern is how much do we do with this tennis facility versus what we have done in the past,” he said.
Vice Mayor John Greene was concerned about the timing.
“I think as we get ready to open up a brand-new tennis center in the coming months, we might be losing some of the continuity,” Greene said. “As we transition to this new facility, I’m concerned about how it affects the program. Mr. Cheatham has done an incredible job over the years, and I think he’s somewhat, in this case, being penalized for his success, since the program has grown so much that we’ve outgrown our facility here.”
Greene said the council has to strike the proper balance between insuring a strong tennis program and safeguarding taxpayer money.
“We want to make sure we’re spending those dollars wisely, but in terms of executing a [request for proposals] and whether or not he [Cheatham] would be the winning bidder, I’m not sure the timing is right,” Greene said. “I think we have a broader issue to address, and that is how to work with outside contractors.”
Mayor Bob Margolis agreed, saying his biggest concern was opening the new facility properly, and not risking it with a new vendor that does not perform well.
“We’ve come a long way in discussions in deciding to move the facility, and I just want there to be continuity,” Margolis said, adding that the tennis center operates differently than other services contracted by the village. “Mr. Cheatham is a full-time operator. I think there are differences in sports providers, and my biggest fear is that if we group them all together, we’re going to lose some very good people.”
Margolis said he would prefer to remain with the existing contract for now in order to assure a smooth transition.
De La Vega said the current contract has one one-year renewal term that would take them through Sept. 30, 2015, although the council had shown interest in putting the contract out to bid.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said the village has seen changes in the different sports programs over the years.
“The main difference in the other sports programs and the tennis center is the capital outlay,” Gerwig said. “It’s $4.5 million that we just put on the table here for the new center. That’s a pretty big chunk of change to take a risk on when it comes to the loyalty of this program. I agree, it could go badly if we change everything the minute we show up in a new place.”
Councilman Howard Coates, who has long been critical of how the tennis center contract is structured, cast the sole dissenting vote, saying he thought the council was doing an about-face on discussions over past several years to make the decision coincide with the opening of the new center.
“Almost every council member has said that at one time or another,” Coates said, adding that he could not justify spending $4.5 million on the new tennis center and turning it over to a for-profit operator.
Coates said he still thought the tennis contractor should be treated in a similar manner as other sports providers. “I do think we need to change the structure because, quite frankly, I don’t like the implication of the taxpayers continuing to complain that we’re supporting a country club-level facility on the taxpayers’ backs,” he said.
Coates said he had no objections to the service being provided currently, but wanted to protect taxpayer dollars.
Gerwig made a motion to extend the contract, which carried 4-1 with Coates opposed.