Termination of Pickleball Contract Clouds Future of Sport Here

Al Haggerty

(This story is updated by information in OVA President Ellen Leznik’s column,  posted April 25 on the Oakmont News website.)

The future of pickleball in Oakmont is uncertain following the termination of the contract to build four courts behind Berger Center by the newly elected board of directors at the April 18 board meeting.

Whether or not pickleball finds a permanent home in Oakmont appears to hinge on whether or not the use of tennis courts at the East or West Recreation Centers will be blocked by threats of suits over the noise, the opposition from the Tennis Club or opposition from city. The city had previously granted only conditional approval of the use of one tennis court at East Rec for pickleball.

After more than two dozen residents, most of them favoring the sport, spoke at the members forum, the board voted 5-2 to terminate the contract with Siri Construction to build the courts at a cost of $310,000 with a 10 percent contingency, which could have put the cost at more than $340,000. Directors Frank Batchelor, who received the most votes in the recent election, and Andie Altman opposed the motion, with Altman asking that her vote be recorded as “totally objecting”.

Director Gloria Young said there is an overall decline in tennis participation, both in Oakmont and elsewhere and that a number of cities are converting tennis courts to pickleball. The conclusion, she said, is that the majority favor converting tennis courts to pickleball and preserving open space. She said real estate agents tell her that people are not moving to Oakmont for pickleball but for open space. Director Ken Heyman said he agreed with Young and feels the contract termination is representative of the community.

Director Carolyn Bettencourt said it is the wrong location for the courts and director Greg Goodwin added that the project “is not right.”

Batchelor, citing concerns over the sound of pickleball at the East or West Rec and that the city gave only conditional approval for pickleball at the east facility, said: “Build the damn thing. Get it over with.” Altman supported Batchelor, adding that the termination could make contractors hesitant about bidding on Oakmont contracts. She called the termination “a grave injustice to the community”.

The meeting, which brought more than one outburst from the audience as board members and residents clashed, drew one of the largest gatherings in recent years with racks of extra chairs rolled out as the crowd passed 200.

The meeting opened with generally conciliatory statements from the new president Ellen Leznik and newly-elected directors Heyman and Bettencourt. “We are all Oakmont,” Leznik said, “and I am hopeful that we will come together, heal together and move forward together.” One challenge facing the board, she said, is “the disparity of wealth in our membership”. “An increase in dues, while insignificant to some, may be a significant financial burden to others.”

Goodwin said he appreciates the opportunity to serve on the board, adding: “My decisions and board votes will be independent, not part of any team agenda.”

Heyman, after thanking the previous board members for their service, said he is “looking forward to working together with the other board members to the betterment of all Oakmont residents.” Bettencourt said that while “it may sometimes be a challenge to find a middle ground where we can come together in our desires, it is my hope and wish to help make that happen.” Batchelor said that while his slate lost the election, the winners did not receive a mandate. He said the board should “try to work together.”

STRONG WORDS AT OPEN FORUM

         The mood suddenly turned sour when resident Vince Taylor asked if it were true that Association Manager Cassie Turner had been asked not to communicate with OVA attorneys and to direct all employee questions to board members. Leznik said most of those reports were not true. She added that “Cassie’s job is not threatened” and then asked “Cassie, are you being driven out of your job?”

“Not yet,” Turner responded. Asked later by the Oakmont News if she had anything to add to that statement, she replied, “Nope”.

Malcolm Manwell, who has been Oakmont’s attorney for 40 years, lauded the OVA as an “extraordinary” homeowners association which has avoided litigation despite the fact that homeowners associations are one of the “most litigious” entities in a very litigious state.

John Felton

 

The air of conciliation ended abruptly when former director John Felton challenged as

“improper and illegal” Leznik’s decision to put the pickleball project on hold immediately after the seating of the new board on April 4. (Leznik later defended the decision as her “fiduciary duty” to halt the project to avoid additional costs and harm to the site.)

Several speakers contended that the close

Wally Schilpp

vote did not give the new board a mandate. Wally Schilpp, a former board member, said a three-year, in-depth study had determined that pickleball would not be approved at the East or West recreation centers unless the courts are enclosed. He said it took “unmitigated gall” to challenge the project.

Pat Clothier, who said she is unable to play pickleball, challenged the termination of a “signed, valid” contract and contended that the costs of termination would have to

Pat Clothier

consider the salaries of crews standing by while the controversy is resolved, the profits the contractor might have realized from other jobs and other possible costs.

In a lengthy discussion of unknown costs of termination, Martin L. Hirsch, an OVA attorney, said the pickleball contract provided Oakmont “good protection” and excluded the recovery of lost profits. Leznik said OVA was awaiting an invoice from the contractor for the costs of termination.

Andy Frauenhofer may have summed up the feeling in the room when he said, “I don’t like the feeling here today. We have to give and take.” The feeling, he added, has to come from here as he put his hand over his heart. Another resident called for “unconditional love”.

Leznik announced the board will be holding twice-monthly meetings starting in May. A former workshop or study session will be converted to a regular meeting so that action can be taken, she said. The meetings will be held on the first and third Tuesdays at 1 p.m. in the Berger Center.

(Photos by John Williston)

     (Watch a video of the meeting at www.oakmontvillage.com/videos)