After months of debate, the Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board have finally decided to keep of the Natatorium's rate structure the same.
Board Chairman Tim Gorbach explains to AkronNewsNow.com that things are staying as is.
"I made a motion that we have a reconsideration of that same motion to change the rates, and both failed 3-2 to make any changes, so the rates will stay the same at this time."
Falls Park Board Chairman Tim Gorbach by Akron NewsNow
The rate structure issue came to light in January when Shane and Coty May, a same-sex married couple were denied a family rate at the gym.
Shane May was in attendance during the Park Board's meeting and he expressed his displeasure with Thursday's ruling.
"I'm very disappointed that they didn't reconsider changing this policy that discriminates against same-sex couples," May said.
"I thought that there would be more hope that they would, but their opinions are set in their minds and don't want to take any criticism for it, so their minds are just set."
Shane May by Akron NewsNow
Coty, an Iraq war veteran suffered injuries in combat and wished to use the Nat for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Shane says that process is still an everyday struggle.
"It's an ongoing process with Coty, I don't think he'll ever get back to where he was before his service time, but he has his good days and bad days."
Gorbach says he was one of those who tried to make the gym's rate policies more inclusive.
"I tried to make the rate structure more inclusive and it was voted down twice and failed," Gorbach said.
"I'm only one member of the board, so two of us made an attempt to change things."
Gorbach proposed earlier a "head of household "structure that would have eliminated what some called a discriminatory rate plan.
The "w/spouse" plan currently calls for heterosexual married couples to receive the $255 discount versus individual members who pay more.
Thursday night's measure failed 3-2, which was the case in March when the Board voted on the issue the first time.
Mayor Don Robart supports the board's decision, saying that he's "sort of irritated" that people advocate for social issues without a funding mechanism. The mayor says he's not homophobic, just fiscally responsible.
Don Robart by Christopher Keppler 1
"The bottom line is that it's a financial issue," said Robart. "I don't think anybody has any problem with the gay community. They're more than welcome to the natatorium. We just don't want to change our policy and I salute the Where things go from here is anyone's guess, but Park Board Chair Tim Gorbach says that despite the ruling, people can still voice their opinions on this issue with their elected officials.
"I would ask that people who wished we would have made a change to continue to voice their opinion, to contact our board, park administration and even City Council again."
Cuyahoga Falls City Council President Diana Colavecchio said she was disappointed in the ruling as well, but that this issue is far from over.
"I feel the people will speak to this and that the State Constitution will be changed and our rate structure at the Nat will change as well," Colavecchio said.
"I know we're going to take some heat for this, but it was an open dialogue and it doesn't get any better than that."
The Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board revisited the ongoing rate structure debate at the Natatorium Thursday evening.
Board Chairman Tim Gorbach says he and the rest of the Board will have a decision by next month.
"At this point the Parks Board is going to do their due diligence, take all the comments under consideration, and at the next meeting we'll have a decision on if there will be any changes to the rate structure," Gorbach said.
Tim Gorbach Falls Parks and Rec Chair by Aaron Coleman
After the Parks Board had their March meeting, a few City Council members met with the Superintendent of the Park and Recreation Department to get a firmer grasp on the current rate structure and if they indeed should form a committee to review it.
The council members decided not to form a committee and asked the Board to take another look Thursday.
The debate stems from Shane and Coty May, a same-sex married couple who were denied a family rate at the gym in January.The couple were married in Washington D.C. on October 28.
Gorbach says the Board will be looking at a myriad of options within the month.
"We've got great folks and great facilities here in Cuyahoga Falls and maybe if we go to an adult-children rate program we can alleviate some of these issues."
Some members of the Cuyahoga Falls City Council says the Park Board's decision to keep the current family rates in March was based on financial reasons rather than a moral decision.
Cuyahoga Falls Ward Eight Councilman Terry Mader says this ongoing debate is not an issue of discrimination, but one of fiscal responsibility.
"It's very detrimental to come up with a plan of paying off our debt in response to the money owed," Mader said.
"To me that's a backward step in being fiscally responsible when it comes to this city."
If approved, a rate change could created revenue losses for the Nat in the neighborhood of $49,000
Gorbach says the issue has become a"pro-gay or anti-gay" debate and wants to expand the fitness facility's discount policy for all patrons in an attempt to eliminate what some call discrimination.
When Shane and Coty were denied the family membership, they were told by the Natatorium staff the marriage was not recognized by Ohio law.
There were people on both sides of the issue at Thursday's meeting, as expected but Gorbach quelled some of the tension by saying that the public forum was not a place to attack one another's viewpoint, or that of the Parks Board.
Shane's husband Coty, an Iraq war veteran suffered injuries in combat and wished to use the Nat for physical therapy and rehabilitation.
The Natatorium's refusal to give the family discount to the couple sparked an online petition with over 4,000 signatures and numerous emails to Falls City Council.
The facility's website has over 100 different rates for membership into the Natatorium. Various other gyms across Northeast Ohio currently offer family discounts to same-sex couples.
The Board will decide on the issue during the May 10th meeting.
The Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board will be taking a second look at the rate structure of the Natatorium.
Board Chairman Tim Gorbach said Cuyahoga Falls City Council decided to take no action and leave it up to Board for now.
"A few Council members met with the Superintendent of the Park and Recreation Department to get a firmer grasp on our current rate structure and if they indeed should form a committee to review it.," Gorbach said.
"The council members decided not to form a committee and asked the Board to take another look at this issue."
Gorbach made a motion to the Board last March to amend the fitness facility's rate structure, which failed 3-2. The issue stems from Shane and Coty May, a same-sex married couple who were denied a family rate at the gym in January.
He proposed a head of household rate structure during the March meeting.
"I was thinking the household rate would be based on the number of people who lived in the house regardless of relationship," Gorbach said.
"If one person lived in a house they would pay a certain amount and if two people lived in a house they would pay a different rate and so on."
The head of household structure would eliminate what some call a discriminatory rate plan. The "w/spouse" plan currently calls for heterosexual married couples to receive the $255 discount versus individual members who pay more.
The household rate could create revenue losses for the Nat in the neighborhood of $49,000.
Gorbach says some people are on both sides of the rate structure issue, but he's confident the Board can make a decision that everyone can agree on.
"It's a balancing act that we as a park board will need to look at and see what we feel is the best way to serve the community as a whole."
The Falls Parks and Rec Board will meet up to discuss the issue Thursday (today) at 5:30 at the Natatorium.
The long-awaited opinion by Cuyahoga Falls law director Paul Janis makes clear, Mayor Don Robart maintains, what he thought anyway: that the Parks Board, which is responsible for setting rates and membership categories at the Natatorium, isn't required to extend a spousal discount to same-sex couples but then isn't barred from it, either.
For that matter, opined Janis, neither is the City Council which has the ultimate authority to overrule the Parks Board if it seems fit.
But that doesn't quite fit with the objections raised at the start of the debate when Shane and Coty May wondered if their marriage was recognized in at least one jurisdiction (Washington, D.C.) where they were married, why it wouldn't be accepted for the purposes of registering to use a swimming pool in Ohio?
The Mays are no strangers to the Natatorium (photo at left); both originally joined as individual members and still maintain the individual memberships. They wondered, as most of us would, if the neighbors next door could save money through the spouse or family discount then why can't we?
When the issue was first raised, officials in Cuyahoga Falls ducked behind the legalese of the decision by voters to specify marriage in the Buckeye State was between a man and woman, period. They couldn't consider any accommodation because the law wouldn't allow it, they maintained. As if their hands were tied and the state prohibition against recognition of same-sex marriage trumped all policy.
Now, Mayor Robart maintains his real concern is fiscal, and protecting the Natatorium from abuse. As if there are waves of scammers massed at the border, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to rip off the people of Cuyahoga Falls by driving up or down Route 8 in the hopes of finding a cheaper place to swim. I admire Robart as a public servant who usually speaks plainly and gets right to the point, but on this issue I think he's missing the point.
The problem, as documented by the Akron Beacon Journal among others, is that recreation centers both public and private in neighboring communities offer such discounts. They bypass the sinkhole of moral judgment in defining what marriage means by simply offering family or household discounts based on numbers, not gender or faces. They do so without allowing membership rates to become hog-tied by the legalese of requiring a definition. A household becomes the number of people under one roof; a family becomes the number of people living in the household.
It's actually a simpler process than requiring potential customers to show proof of marriage, or a birth certificate to prove the kids are yours. Got a driver's license? Got a utility bill? Have some way to show everyone is under one roof? Good, sign here, welcome to our facility and don't forget to bring your own towel and water sandals.
Instead of "hundreds" of membership categories, as officials with Cuyahoga Falls have maintained they need to serve the community while keeping the barbarians at bay, wouldn't it actually save money and be more user-friendly to welcome new customers who don't need a lawyer to fill out a membership application?
On the face of it, this seems fairly simple. The government, which issues marriage licenses, is one thing. A membership in a facility where people use a swimming pool is another. One exists to keep records and extract payment; the other exists to serve customers who think aquatics will benefit their health. One is a fact of life you can't get away from because, after all, it's the government. The other is a matter of serving the public as a customer.
The question officials on the Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board, City Council and the Mayor's Office should be asking isn't whether the state law trumps serving the Natatorium's customers, or if this serves as a referendum on same-sex marriage, or if the Falls is financially immunized against scammers eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sack the Nat. The first question was answered by the Janis legal opinion; both sides say the second question isn't really the issue and the third question is simply answered by calling the people who run recreation centers both near and far to find out how they manage to run their facilities without falling prey to the "massive abuse" Mayor Robart claims might come to pass by updating their membership rate categories.
Just for the sake of full disclosure, I'm a member of the Macedonia Recreation Center in northern Summit County. My wife and I used to have a family membership, but she'd rather walk than swim so my membership now is strictly individual. Here's how Macedonia's membership policy "defines" family for the purposes of taking a dip in the pool, lift a barbell, play a game of ping-pong, attend a fitness class or take a stroll around the second-floor jogging track:
Macedonia Recreation Center Consists of 2 adults living in the same household or 1 adult and 1 legally dependent child between the ages of 3-18 living in the same household. Children 2 and under are free. Standard proof of residency and ID required for both adults. Age verification of child required from birth certificate or valid photo ID.
The Lake Anna YMCA, Firestone Park YMCA, Green YMCA, Riverfront YMCA and University Park YMCA are also fine facilities with the latest in exercise equipment and places to swim. They're all run by the Akron Area YMCA, a private non-profit organization. Their membership categories are fairly simple and to the point when it comes to the Family membership:
Akron Area YMCA Our Family membership category is: two adults and any dependent children up to 24 years living in the same household. (Evidence may be requested.)
The simple question is: if government-supported recreation centers in Macedonia, Medina and Twinsburg as well as YMCA recreation centers from one end of the county to the other can do it, why can't Cuyahoga Falls?
Put it another way: why shouldn't Cuyahoga Falls?
A decision from the Law Director in Cuyahoga Falls -- on the issue of using the family rate for a same-sex couple at the Natatorium.
The City can, says Law Director Paul Janis, says the City isn't required to extend the rate but then City Council isn't barred from overruling any decision by the Parks Board on the issue if it wants to provide the rate.
Shane and Coty May were married in Washington, D.C. (seen at left, photo from their Facebook page) and both have individual memberships in the Natatorium but started an online petition drive when they asked about a family rate and were denied.
In his ten-page opinion, Janis summarizes "The Natatorium is not required to offer it's "spouse" discount membership rate to members who are in a same-sex marriage. These members are not in a "marriage" as the term is defined in the Ohio Constitution." He also notes the Parks and Recreation board is also "...not required to alter Natatorium membership categories to accommodate the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in other jurisdictions."
But Janis also writes in his opnion that the Parks Board has "broad authority" to alter membership categories "...to provide discounts to same-sex couples or other members in non-traditional or alternative relationships, if it wishes to do so." He also advises that "City Council may, by ordinance, repeal the Board's authority in this regard and establish membership categories for the Natatorium, if it wishes to do so."
Previous coverage: AUDIO Legal Decision For Natatorium On Hold; Gay Married Couple Told "No" By Natatorium
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