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Nassau panel approves agreement with outside pool operator

An aerial view of the Nassau County Aquatic

An aerial view of the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow on May 11, 2011. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

A former manager of Nassau's aquatics center, who resigned during a probe of his finances in 2003, is poised to receive a new contract to run a private pool in a public park.

The Nassau Legislature's Rules Committee, in a 4-3 party-line vote, Monday approved a permit agreement between the county and David Ferris' Long Island Swimming Ltd. for the nonprofit to build and operate an Olympic-size "auxiliary" pool next to the county aquatics center in Eisenhower Park.

Under the 20-year agreement, Ferris would spend $1.3 million to install and maintain the prefab indoor/outdoor pool and pay the county annual license fees of between $45,000 and $90,000. His company, the project's only bidder, would then split any facility sponsorship revenues with the county.

Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker told lawmakers that the new pool will open up lanes at the current aquatic center, where Ferris' swim club now trains. By booking more local swim groups at the public pool, Walker said, the county will get more revenue, and may soon have enough space to host regional swim meets that would bring in even more.

"It's space in the park that's not being used at all, and isn't generating one bit of revenue," Walker said of the property for the private pool. "And it comes at no cost to taxpayers."

But minority Democrats on the committee said the county would be better off funding an auxiliary pool from public funds, and keeping all revenues. They also questioned if the agreement didn't amount to a lease, which requires state legislative approval as alienation of public parkland.

"Ironically, the rubber-stamp [Republican] majority didn't even allow the parks or environmental committee to vote on this alienation," Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said after the meeting, noting that a permit agreement requires needs only the approval of the Rules Committee, and not the full legislature.

Other lawmakers raised concerns about Ferris. He resigned as aquatics center manager after Nassau's investigations commissioner sought his financial records to probe allegations that parents felt pressured to purchase equipment from one of Ferris' companies in order to ensure their children were included in meets.

"There was never an indictment, there was never an accusation," Ferris said. "Everything was dropped, and I can only tell you that if there was something there, they would have gone after me."

Since 2010, Ferris and his companies have given a combined $14,000 to Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's campaign, state election board records show. When a lawmaker asked him if that was why he received the pool contract, Ferris replied: "Swimmers are from both parties. This is not a political thing. This is doing something good for the community."

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin called Democrats "liars" for implying that Ferris received the publicly bid contract due to his campaign donations.

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