Tough choices on natatorium but, well ... later

When we left Columbus Council a little more than two weeks ago in its chronically problematic dealings with the chronically troublesome Columbus Aquatic Center, councilors were demanding tough choices from Parks and Recreation Director James Worsley and reproaching him for why some of those possibilities had not already been put before the council.

At issue, of course, is keeping the center open for the full 89-hour schedule to which the city and the swim center's constituency are apparently committed, versus having to cut back to about half those hours, which is about what the city's budget for the facility will pay for.

The only really clear message from the council was that the city has no more money to put into the facility, and whatever additional funding is needed to keep it open will have to come from elsewhere in Worsley's own budget.

"You may have to shut some programs down," Councilor Glenn Davis said at the time. "I can't tell you which ones, but you're going to have to go through and sort them out."

Councilor Mike Baker concurred: "Everybody around the table knows the answer is not going to be more funding from the city So the decisions, I know, are going to be difficult. But I'm willing to listen to anything to make it work."

Let's get back to that.

This past Tuesday night Worsley was back, apparently with the presentation councilors had scolded him for not having ready two weeks before. Except that by the time the council session had dragged on for five hours, so many councilors had left that there was no longer a quorum and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson had to adjourn the meeting.

So much for those tough decisions, at least insofar as the city's policymaking branch is concerned.

It should be noted that Davis and Baker were among the minority who stayed around, so when the latter said he was "willing to listen," he at least proved true to his word. But by then, there was officially no point in listening, because nothing could be acted upon anyway.

So any action on this Aquatic Center mess is now postponed at least another two weeks, and almost certainly longer. For now, the public official left twisting in the wind is Worsley, tasked with deciding which programs he has to cut to pay for the swim center, and who in the city will be affected by those choices.

(One option already reported is returning after-school programs to the Muscogee County School District, which would save Parks & Rec about half what it needs for the full natatorium budget.)

Council can't take a powder on this problem indefinitely. The Parks and Recreation director might submit the BRAC list, so to speak, but the city's elected board members will have to put their names and votes on the record.