Parks and Rec Board Prepares for Final Call on Natatorium Rate Structure, Gay Rights Issue
The issue over whether or not to redefine the gym's spouse memberships will be resolved next month.
The end is near.
In May, the Cuyahoga Falls Parks and Recreation Board will face arguably its biggest decision in decades when it makes a final ruling on whether or not to change the Natatorium's rate structure.
Chairman Tim Gorbach arrived at the next and final step following a report by Parks and Recreation Superintendent Bill Lohan and a public address by Falls City Councilwoman Diana Colavecchio during Thursday’s monthly parks board meeting at the Natatorium.
Lohan based his report on a late-March, closed-door work session he had with Colavecchio, council members Terry Mader and Carrie Snyder, Cuyahoga Falls Law Director Paul Janis and others. Here’s the breakdown:
- Do nothing – Wait to see if the Freedom to Marry Coalition can gather 385,000 signatures and put its same-sex marriage equality amendment on the November 2013 ballot. If passed by voters, it would overturn an Ohio Constitutional amendment set in 2004, which restricts marriage to one man and one woman, reports The Huffington Post. The Natatorium bases its disputed “w/spouse” membership on Ohio’s current marriage laws, so the local issue could simply resolve itself on the state level next year.
- Change the language – Eliminate the word marriage from the membership plan, i.e., instead of saying “w/spouse”, the language would read first adult, second adult. The rest of the rate structure would remain the same. The change would circumvent the Ohio Constitution and not present any legal complications. Yet, Lohan said the alteration could cost the city $49,000 a year in revenue losses.
To absorb the losses, Colavecchio proposed the city reallocate a portion of the seven-figure funds that it's currenlty using to pay off the $30 million gym.
According to the council woman, Janis said the Nat's spouse discount was “discriminatory” since the rules that regulate corporate business rates and senior citizen rates are much less restrictive. Lohan concurred, and said the spousal rate was discriminatory, but not illegal.
Colavecchio referenced the WaterWorks Aquatic Center, saying its rates rise or fall depending solely on the number of people in a given membership and not on whether they're married or gay.
She urged the parks board to change the rate structure, saying, “the time has come to put this issue behind us and move the city forward in the best light possible.”
However, many of the 60 folks who attended the meeting plus Councilman Mader, were there to see the structure go unchanged.
Their reasoning hit the religious and political gamuts.
"We are not imposing our values upon anyone, but simply defending the ones that currently exist," said Broadman Baptist Pastor Chris McCombs in defense of the current rates.
The issue was broached by former Cuyahoga Falls resident Shane May when he and his husband, Coty May, were told by Natatorium staff in January that they could not receive the discount because their Washington D.C.-based marriage wasn't recognized in Ohio.
Mader criticized the Mays for not attending Thursday's meeting, and said that Coty May, as an Iraq war veteran, took a soldier's oath to abide by and defend the constitution.
Many in the crowd argued it boiled down to a "social agenda" being unfairly forced against the community.
Resident Mike Penta fired back and said those who oppose the rate change are "intolerant" and have exercised "bigotry."
At which point, Gorbach momentarily lost control of the crowd and had to stand to silence the audience's disapproval of Penta's comments.
Over the next few weeks, Gorbach said the board will "get extremely familiar" with the gym's rate structure, take in what's been said by the public and city officials and make a ruling.
The next parks board meeting is May 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Natatorium. He encouraged the public to come and weigh in before the board gives its final decision.
Editor's note: Mike Penta directed his comments at the Parks and Recreation Board, not the public who attended the meeting.
Where should the Parks and Rec Board go from here?