Public Comment

Commentary: Administrative Crisis and Defamation at the Berkeley YMCA

By H. Scott Prosterman
Tuesday June 13, 2006

The Berkeley Daily Planet published an article about the administrative problems at the Berkeley YMCA, noting that I had been expelled for writing a series of memos about problems there. The article noted efforts on the part of the Y administration to disrupt efforts to unionize workers. This alone, characterizes the administration at the Berkeley Y, and should give the City of Berkeley concern about supporting this organization.  

My expulsion from the Berkeley Y represents a shameless attempt by the Y to avoid addressing many safety, hygiene, liability issues. I had expressed these concerns in a series of memos to Director Peter Chong and Aquatics Director Aaron Dence. They never offered any substantive reply, and responded by trying to defame me.  

My background as a Certified Pool Operator and competitive swimmer has given me the benefit of seeing how pools can operate safely and successfully. I found myself sending many memos to Dence about breaches of safety and etiquette in the lap pool, and never receiving a reply. But he continued to solicit my input in a patronizing manner.  

Chong relied on a series of false incident reports to depict me as anti-social and revoke my membership. In fact, the incident reports used to discredit me were solicited by Y administrators. This has been confirmed by Y staff members, who want to keep their jobs, but who don’t enjoy formal whistleblower protections.  

I submitted no less than three written complaints to the Y about the threatening nature of gay men harassing non-gay men in the shower area. The Y ignored these memos, and depicted me as anti-gay. Expressing my objection to unwanted sexual advances in the men’s locker room does not make me anti-gay. Yelling at a child who has done something threatening or frightening doesn’t make me a threat to children.  

Last year, I raised over $1,300 for the Berkeley Y’s Annual Fund Drive. As a professional fundraiser with management training, I gave sales meetings, and a lot of counsel to other volunteers who were less experienced. It was frustrating, because of an outdated date base, so that 75% of the calls made were to non-working or wrong numbers. I proposed that the Y set up a table in the lobby to manually update the contact information for all members. It didn’t happen, and I chose not to participate in this year’s Campaign.  

On March 28, I was “summoned” by Chong and Dence to account for a series of incident reports about me. I was allowed to see them, and quickly determined that each of them was totally fabricated. One was solicited and manipulated by the Y’s Membership Director, Brenda Tatum Davis! A staff member, who also wants to keep his/her job told me that , “I talked to the boys and they told me that Brenda put them up to filing the incident report, and ‘they didn’t even know what one was until Brenda put them up to it.’” In the incident report, the boys admit to their own bad behavior that elicited my response. Yet, Chong and Davis chose to dignify it because it was solicited for the purpose of revoking my membership.  

The pool culture at the Berkeley Y is characterized by poorly trained lifeguards and reckless indifference towards safety and etiquette. All other pools dedicated for lap swimming rigidly enforce an etiquette system, to ensure that swimmers of ALL abilities are safely accommodated. There no such code enforcement at the Berkeley Y pool.  

Dence chooses not to enforce the common etiquette, and maintains other ongoing sources of provocation for swimmers. He has failed to properly train the lifeguards in pool management. On April 8, a violent head-on collision occurred between two members, because a lifeguard sat passively while a swimmer entered a lane right in front of her and caused the accident!  

My experiences leave no room for compromise when it comes to pool safety. This includes two drownings at pools, where I issued similar warnings that were ignored. I’ve also performed two rescues when guard staffs were inattentive.  

In August 2000, I sent a letter to Director Michael Kammler, at the Osher-Marin Jewish Community Center, advising that their day camp swim program was “an accident waiting to happen.” This was prompted by the absence of any real instruction and the prevalence of chaos, but this letter was ignored. In November 2000, I was suspended from the JCC for doing yoga on the pool deck! No kidding. This is the same JCC that was sued in 2003 when they tried to prohibit breast-feeding on the pool deck. In June 2002, a child, Natasha Lujon-Isaacs, drowned at the Osher-Marin JCC day camp. No one lost their job over this tragedy. The Osher-Marin JCC initiated a campaign of brutal defamation against me, when I tried to publish the prior-warning letter in the Marin Independent Journal.  

The City of Berkeley subsidizes over 1,000 memberships at the Berkeley Y, and provides other unusual financial benefits. Because of these generous subsidies, the Berkeley Y serves as a community center for the City of Berkeley. It should therefore be subjected to the same governmental requirements with regard to fairness, the right to organize a union, and constitutional protections of its staff and membership. The financial relationship between the Berkeley YMCA and the City of Berkeley infers a “social contract” between the two entities. The Berkeley YMCA must abide by the same protections and guidelines as any government agency or contractor! Otherwise, the city must sever this relationship.  


H. Scott Prosterman is a Berkeley resident.