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Emotions flair at meeting as Minneapolis-based firm gets the nod to provide services for city-owned rec center

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO - The Sherwood City Council is expected to negotitate a contract with HealthFitness to provide future services for the city-owned recreation center where services are currently provided by the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated from the original to include quotes from both HealthFitness and YMCA officials as well as adding comments about how the resolution to move forward with negotiations with HealthFitness occurred.)

The City of Sherwood will seek a contract with the Minneapolis-based HealthFitness to provide services at its recreational facility currently run by the YMCA of the Columbia-Willamette.

That decision was made Tuesday inside a packed Sherwood City Council chamber where many audience members expressed support for continued operation by the YMCA.

At issue was who will provide future operational services at the city-owned recreation center that has been run by the YMCA for the last 20 years. The city received five proposals and interviewed three finalists — YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District and HealthFitness.

Initially, councilors listed their top contenders for recreation services, a vote that was split 3-3 between the YMCA and HealthFitness. Councilors Kim Young, Sean Garland and Jennifer Kuiper said they favored the YMCA, while Mayor Krisanna Clark, and Councilors Sally Robinson and Jennifer Harris said they liked the proposal put forth by HealthFitness.

Garland said he supported going with the YMCA because they could guarantee a financial surplus and would provide services that would be best for the community.

Young, too, said the financial prospects presented by the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette were the tipping point for her. And Kuiper said she too wanted the YMCA, noting that while HealthFitness scored well on her list of positive attributes, "the 'Y' is absolutely a good steward of the budget."

Mayor Clark picked HealthFitness as her choice for the city and noted that the decision to revisit the expiring contract with the YMCA wasn't made lightly.

"It was not proposed because someone was on a witch hunt or anything else," Clark said.

Clark said she found HealthFitness to have "unbelievable" options and while they might come at a price, she believes its quality of services made them No. 1 in her ranking.

According to city officials, Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District predicted a $2.38 million deficit for the first five years of a contract, while revised figures submitted by HealthFitness showed a deficit of about $480,700 in the same time period.

YMCA officials predicted a surplus of $119,310 over those five years and said it planned to invest 100 percent of projected surpluses back into the city's facility.

Harris said she, too, was impressed with HealthFitness because they brought a lot to the table that she hadn't anticipated.

"Their interview was spot-on," she said.

Councilor Robinson said she was excited by the presentation made by HealthFitness, adding she felt YMCA officials were involved in politicizing the issue and making an emotional ploy to get the council to select them as their provider. Robinson also said she had expected more in the YMCA's written proposal than what was presented.

City Attorney Josh Soper and city staff had previously agreed to a ranking system.

Those scores gave a four-point ranking for first place, a two-point ranking for second place and one point for third. As a result, HealthFitness came out on top with 18 points, followed by the YMCA at 16 and THPRD at 8. Later, an even more detailed point-by-point evaluation also had HealthFitness at the top of the list, followed by the YMCA and then THPRD.

Later, during a vote on a resolution asking council members to enter into negotiations for a contract with HealthFitness, the same 3-3 deadlock occurred with Kuiper, Young and Garland declining to support the resolution.

Clark asked Kuiper why there wasn't unanimous support, since the rankings already told the story and the mayor hadn't heard anyone object to the process.

Kuiper's reply: Since the rankings were so close, she wanted to open it up for more discussion.

At times, audience members expressed irritation with the council when it appeared they were moving away from selection of the YMCA as the new provider. Clark noted that the public hearing portion of the process was closed and it was time for the council to deliberate. She also warned that those who continued to interrupt the meeting would be removed. Several clearly agitated audience members did eventually stand up and leave. At one point, Clark called for a five-minute break.

When the council returned, Garland proposed the possibility of postponing a decision until the council was back to seven members — following a planned November election — in order to break a tie vote. Councilor Dan King recently resigned his seat because he moved outside the city.

The proposal didn't elicit widespread support.

"Quite frankly, I'm sick of delay, delay, delay," said Robinson.

Clark too did not want a further delay, she said.

"I'm very concerned, are we going to play politics or are we going with the process?" asked Clark.

Robinson asked the city attorney if they could be sued for not following the request for proposal process. Soper said it was difficult to say but that it was possible.

Finally, Kuiper, who had studied all the proposals for 16 to 20 hours, said while she didn't want to be known as the person who kicked out the YMCA, she believes in the process of how government works. As a result, she said she would now vote to support the proposal for negotiations with HealthFitness.

After the meeting, City Manager Joe Gall said his staff would get in touch with HealthFitness and begin the contract negotiation process. He has 30 days to negotiate with the organization, a deadline that can be extended. Ultimately, the contract must come back to the council for approval.

Contacted after the resolution passed, a HealthFitness official said the company was pleased with the decision.

"HealthFitness is honored and excited to bring our fitness and recreation services to the city of Sherwood," said James Aranowski, senior director of program management and engagement for HealthFitness. "We look forward to joining Sherwood and helping foster our shared commitment to quality of service and supporting the highest quality of life and well-being within the community."

Meanwhile, YMCA officials were less than pleased.

Bob Hall, and Mark Burris, CEO and COO, respectively, for the YMCA of Columbia Willamette, said they were very disappointed by the council's 3-3 vote. In addition, they said they were sad and concerned about how it will effect city residents, members and staff.

"We continue to experience overwhelming community support for the YMCA in Sherwood," Hall wrote in prepared comments regarding the council's action. "Our proposal and our Better Together mailer to residents was prepared with that support in mind - protecting Sherwood taxpayers from absorbing operating losses. Our communities have limited resources and we do not want the city and its citizens to subsidize our operating budget. We have successfully protected the city for over 19 years and the city has never subsidized YMCA operations. We are at a loss as to why three city councilors would choose otherwise and subsidize losses for a for- profit company."

Burris added, also in a prepared statement: "We believe the March town meeting demonstrated how much the Sherwood community supports the YMCA and are puzzled why there were no further, formal engagements with the community," he wrote. "We hope residents will ask the city councilors to reconsider their decisions as the process continues, and continue ask for a public forum where respectful debate is allowed. We also urge the mayor and council to conduct a third-party poll of Sherwood citizens before implementing this decision."

The YMCA has posted a question and answer fact sheet on its Sherwood YMCA website at ymcacw.org/rfp-faq.

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