Beaufort County: Bluffton swim team undercharged $18,000

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comNovember 22, 2013 

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In this file photo from last year, Eric Kemeny gives instructions during a swim practice at the Bluffton Indoor Community Pool. Beaufort County and the swim team are determining how much the swim team must pay to use the pool.

FILE — Staff photo Buy Photo

Beaufort County will not seek the more than $18,000 the Fins swim team was undercharged during 18 months for its use of the Bluffton Community Pool, according to county officials.

The monthly rate the team paid was part of an agreement signed in July 2012 by Fins Coach Eric Kemeny and then-Bluffton pool manager Karen Ijames, according to a county report. Ijames had also been an assistant coach for the team. A team booster club president said, however, that Ijames was not an assistant coach at the same time she was managing the pool.

Neither Ijames nor Joe Penale, who was then PALS' interim director, had the authority to enter into a contract or agreement that departed from the rate schedule approved by County Council in February 2012, new PALS director Scott Marshall said.

Under that rate schedule, the team should have been charged $2,912 per month -- nearly three times the $975 per month agreed to in July 2012, according to the report.

"Our administration is going to recognize that (the Fins) should not be penalized for actions done by two former employees," county administrator Gary Kubic said.

"The report, in my opinion, should be used as an educational tool and not one of retribution of any kind, whether it be against the Fins, the county or staff on both sides."

Neither Penale nor Ijames work for the county now, Marshall said. Penale resigned shortly before Marshall became director in June, and Ijames left shortly thereafter, though neither departure was related to his hiring, Marshall added.

Attempts Friday to reach Penale and Ijames for comment were unsuccessful.

Ijames worked as an assistant coach for the Fins swim team for nearly a year in 2011 and early 2012. She then left the team to manage the Bluffton pool, Fins booster club president Kathy Evans said.

Marshall said he did not know when she started work as the Bluffton pool manager. When contacted around 5 p.m. Friday, he said he would have to check with the county personnel department on the date.

Marshall said he had not confirmed she was a coach for the team when creating the report.

Evans said there is no correlation between the July 2012 agreement and Ijames' connection to the team. The rates agreed to then were based on previous years' payments, she said.

The team's charges were $700 a month from 2011 to February 2012, according to Marshall's report. Then in March through May, the team paid $875 a month. After that, it paid about $975 a month. From February 2012 forward, the team should have been charged $2,912 per month.

No more changes are in order, now that the Fins are paying on the regular fee schedule, Marshall said. The team will have to abide by the current lane restrictions and fee structure unless an agreement stating otherwise is made with County Council, Marshall said.

"The rules are the way they are, and we have to continue to follow them," he said.

Under those rules, the Fins are limited to four of the pool's six lanes -- two must remain open for public use. That's the most problematic change for the team, Kemeny said. Now, each age group has to reduce practice time to fit more swimmers into fewer lanes, he said.

"It's a shame because these kids are going to suffer, and this program is going to suffer," Kemeny said.

For now, the team has no plans to press county administrators or council for another agreement, and is having heaters installed at the pool in the Shell Hall neighborhood to host some of the team's age groups there, Kemeny said.


File video: Fins swim team relocating after changes to its fees (:52)

The Fins swim team is scrambling to find a permanent home after changes to its use of a county-owned pool have forced most of the team to relocate, according to coach Eric Kemeny (Oct. 22). Zach Murdock

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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