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Great Barrington’s decision to outsource lifeguards at Lake Mansfeld to a questionable Georgia-based company is concerning

BSRCC has been a cornerstone of our community, ensuring quality and safety at Lake Mansfield for nearly two decades. It’s disheartening to see our town prioritize cost-savings over community loyalty, support for the local workforce, and quality service.

To the editor:

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with the recent decision made by the town of Great Barrington regarding the lifeguard services contract for Lake Mansfield. During the Town Parks & Recreation Committee meeting held on May 13, 2024, it was revealed that the town has entered into a contract with a company from Georgia to supply lifeguards to the lake, sidelining Berkshire South Regional Community Center (BSRCC), which has provided this service for the past 18 years.

Apart from being poorly communicated, this decision feels underhanded. I was particularly offended by the behavior of Parks & Recreation Committee Chair Karen Smith. The rest of the Parks Commission was unaware of the choice of the Georgia company until the meeting, which is unacceptable. Had Mr. Meier, the athletic director at the Kilpatrick Center, not heard from a young lifeguard (who now needs a job after this recent decision) and asked a question, when would this decision have been disclosed? It feels like this move was intended to attract as little attention as possible.

Ms. Smith’s comments about Berkshire South were unprofessional and unwarranted. For the past 22 years, BSRCC has gone above and beyond to support our community while receiving little to no funding from the town of Great Barrington. It is a misconception that the Community Center’s operations are financially supported by the town; they are not, and never have been.

The town received three bids for this service. Despite BSRCC’s longstanding commitment which accounts for staff wages, training, management costs, and more, they were outbid by two Georgia-based companies. The bids were as follows:

  • BSRCC: $43,945
  • Pool Mgmt, LLC: $36,960
  • USA Management, GA: $35,280

Their decision to disregard other factors and simply choose the lowest bidder disregards the value of local expertise and dedication. BSRCC has been a cornerstone of our community, ensuring quality and safety at Lake Mansfield for nearly two decades. It’s disheartening to see our town prioritize cost-savings over community loyalty, support for the local workforce, and quality service.

BSRCC has been instrumental in employing local teens and adults, offering them not just a job but a sense of responsibility and community engagement. By outsourcing to companies based in Georgia, we are depriving our young people of valuable work experience and the opportunity to contribute to their community. Keeping contracts local helps sustain our economy, fosters community pride, and ensure that those who know our area best are the ones serving it.

Apart from the decision itself, the manner in which it was communicated also raises serious concerns. Why were the other Parks & Recreation Committee members not informed? Why did it seem that only Ms. Smith and Department of Public Works Superintendent Joseph Aberdale were aware of these bids? I urge readers to view the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting recording, particularly from minute 22:35 to 41:05, to witness the troubling way this discussion unfolded.

Ms. Smith claims the town’s “hands were tied” due to the Massachusetts procurement laws for public projects, which are governed by Chapter 30B of the Massachusetts General Laws. These laws mandate that contracts for public projects over a certain value must be awarded to the “lowest responsible and eligible bidder.”

Key points of Chapter 30B include:

  1. Competitive Bidding Requirement: For any project estimated to cost more than $10,000, a competitive sealed bidding process must be conducted.
  2. Lowest Responsible and Eligible Bidder: The contract must go to the bidder who is both the lowest in cost and deemed responsible and eligible. “Responsible” refers to the bidder’s capability, integrity, and reliability to perform the contract requirements, while “eligible” ensures the bidder meets all criteria set forth in the bid solicitation.
  3. Evaluation Criteria: The town can include additional criteria in the evaluation process beyond just the price. This can involve assessing the bidder’s past performance, financial stability, and other relevant factors.

While I am not suggesting that the town would have been able to specify their preference for local businesses, Chapter 30B does allow towns to include evaluation criteria that allow them to consider factors other than the lowest dollar amount. For instance, the ability to respond quickly to emergencies, familiarity with local regulations, and past performance in the area can help determine the “responsible” and “eligible” status of a bidder.

Ms. Smith claims that “They vetted these guys”, but a quick Google search revealed concerning information about USA Management. Here is a sampling of their one-star Yelp reviews.

Yelp Reviews: One-Star Average

REVIEW 1: DO NOT GET SUCKED IN BY THE BELLS AND WHISTLES. THEY’RE BROKEN. I do not recommend anyone waste their money on this company… This company is dangerous and costs you money… They do not manage their pool managers, life guards or attendants. They will bill you and invoice you for items not approved.

REVIEW 2: Same issues as everyone else has already mentioned. A few neighborhood teens took jobs with USA Terrible communication, no training, and they don’t pay anyone their last check due Teenagers are still waiting for paychecks

REVIEW 3: USA Pool Management provided staffing services a community pool in 2018 and the results were disastrous. Multiple no-show guards with no backup available, lack of training, pay discrepancies and overbilling resulted in termination of the contract for cause. Do not hire this firm, beware.

REVIEW 4: USA Management is a horrible, dishonorable, inept pool management company. Their training for the lifeguards consisted of telling them to download an app where they will track their work hours throughout the summer. Needless to say, the app did not work so the guards weren’t able to consistently track their hours. When the guards asked the pool manager for help, they all got the run around. In short, our guards were barely paid and when they were paid, they were paid late. Horrible, horrible company!

REVIEW 5: I work with them as a lifeguard for 3 months over summer and only got paid one time for 115$ bucks the owe me around 3000 I been trying to get paid for weeks everyone plays stupid when they pick the phone everyone is always out of the office or don’t have there phone number

REVIEW 6: under no circumstances should you use this company for any sort of pool management. we have about ten parents calling us asking why their kids’ withheld pay* has not been received. these people bullied us with lawyers when we disputed our last installment after we basically had to run the pool ourselves the last part of the summer. absolute disgrace of an operation. all the other reviews reflect our sentiments as well. *they withhold part of the lifeguards pay until after the summer to ensure completion of the job.

Additional reviews here.

In fact, if you google “is USA Management out of GA a legit business,” the top result says: “SCAM, SCAM SCAM.”

Additionally, USA Management has a one-star rating from the Better Business Bureau and received an “F” rating with accreditation. I encourage everyone to read these reviews for themselves.

It became apparent at the meeting that the town is unsure who the lifeguards will be or how the company plans to address staffing. To a question about where out-of-town lifeguards would live, Ms. Smith responded, “They can live wherever they want.” This, in a town where local people of modest means are almost entirely priced out of the housing market. She later suggested that the town could collect resumes on behalf of the new company—an offer never extended to BSRCC, despite staffing being a significant business expense. Ms. Smith also referred to our young lifeguards as “local bait” for this company, which is an ironically fitting description, given that the top online complaint about them comes from their employed lifeguards who were never compensated for their work.

I am deeply troubled by this decision and the process by which it was reached. I urge the community to educate themselves about it and to make their opinions known as well.

My final advice would be to check out the upcoming swimming lessons that Berkshire South is offering … you’re going to need them.

Jaclyn Sinay, BSRCC Board of Trustees member
Richmond

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