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Despite pleas at Bellport meeting, no lifeguard resolution in sight

Lifeguard Meeting_edited-1

It appears Bellport Village will not be hiring back the lifeguards who resigned en masse from their jobs at Ho-Hum Beach last Friday, July 17.

Despite pleas for reconciliation from some residents during an at-times contentious Village Board meeting Saturday morning, no board members indicated they’d be welcoming the lifeguards back.

At least not this summer.

In the meantime, Brookhaven Town-hired lifeguards will continue manning the beach through a contract with the village.

“I think you allowed this to go to far, and it’s not too late to fix this,” said a village resident and former Bellport ferry captain, Tom Linden, to applause. “Do you want this to be your legacy, that on your watch the lifeguards quit? Are you saying there’s no chance [to resolve the issue]?”

“I think we’re moving forward for this year,” without the village lifeguards, said Mayor Ray Fell.

Fell kicked off the meeting with an almost 30-minute explanation of what happened in the days following an afternoon text message to VIllage Hall saying the lifeguards were all resigning.

The mayor read the text message aloud, emphasizing that the lifeguards said they were resigning their positions at Ho-Hum beach “for multiple varying reasons,” and that they “all decided that future negotiations, phone calls, and meetings will not be necessary.”

Then days followed with little communication between village officials and the lifeguards, Fell said, during which time the village was also trying to find replacement lifeguards and re-allow swimming.

Three lifeguards spoke to the board Saturday morning, including Matt Horsley, who had taken his young daughter to the beach during work hours in June, something that became a public focal point during the dispute.

The mayor actually started his comments by mentioning Horsley’s actions:

“I felt very concerned about the safety of the people who were at the beach, in the water,” Fell said. “We hire lifeguards to provide a service, that is to be on the beach, protecting people who are in the water. And not babysitting their children.”

Horsley said he was spoken to about bringing his daughter and agreed never to do it again.

“It was resolved back in June,” Horsley said.

He and two other lifeguards who spoke said they had been asking the village to address several issues, such as equipment concerns, as well as a need to find some shade during breaks.

Yet before those issues were adequately addressed, the lifeguards said, the crew was instead informed their families could not be at the beach, and could no longer ride the ferry for free.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, you saying our families are forbidden from coming to the beach,” Horsley said. “We were having these conversations about things we need, yet [the village] was taking another thing away from [us].”

“It was the lack of communication, the lack of respect that we had been asking for,” he said.

Of the other residents who did speak, many thanked the board for acting swiftly to get the beaches back open by contracting with the town lifeguards, who started work Friday.

Bellport Village Trustee Leslie O’Connor said she would not look to bring the lifeguards back, considering they quit their jobs so suddenly and with no notice.

“Communication is a two-way street,” O’Connor said. “And if your immediate supervisor discusses policy with you, and if you’re unhappy with that policy, I would expect you would say, ‘We’re not happy; we want to speak with your supervisor, meaning the mayor and the board.”

“That did not happen,” she continued. “They resigned with no notice, maybe 3 1/2 hours notice, putting everyone in the lurch. For me, personally, I would question whether or not if something else happened, that this would be the reaction we’d get again.”

For his part, village lifeguard Johnn Knapp complained that the Village Board members rarely engaged with the lifeguards, other than the occasional reprimand.

He said he’d be reluctant to take his job back if it was offered.

“I don’t see working for you guys unless I saw changes on your behalf,” he said.

mike@greaterpatchogue.com

Photo: Longtime Bellport lifeguard Matt Horsley addresses the Village board Saturday morning.

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com