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Sunday, June 9, 2013

No love for tennis coach

It has been said before, hard facts make bad law. This story has had its analogues on Guam and surely elsewhere: a well-meaning and enterprising citizen takes an unused bit of government property and turns it into a well-used community asset, but does that citizen then own the property and the community program?

Coach Mike debacle a ‘teaching moment’
A collision of values at Salt Lake City Hall last week left many shaking their heads after their sense of community was smashed by a process designed to keep government free of cronyism. The victims of the train wreck were Mike Martines and the community built around Coach Mike’s Tennis Academy.

For the past 15 years, Martines has toiled at the Dee Smith Tennis Center, 1216 Wasatch Drive, building Coach Mike’s Tennis Academy. He has raised about $500,000 in private money to spruce up the city-owned facility, including the purchase of a bubble that allows for year-round play.

When the veteran tennis coach took the reins at the Dee Smith Center in the late ’90s, there were no other takers for the rundown facility. "I’ve never bid for this place," Martines said. "They always renewed my contract."

According to those gathered at City Hall, he did more than transform forsaken courts into a gem of a tennis center. He built a community of folks who see Coach Mike’s Academy as a focal point of their lives and those of their children, they said. But soon, Martines could be out of a job and the tennis center he has built could be operated by someone else. Salt Lake City, through its procurement process ­— which apparently didn’t take into account such things as facility improvements and community building — has selected another vendor to operate the Dee Smith Center, as well as the tennis facility at Liberty Park.

In a prepared statement, Graham said the management of Liberty Park and Dee Smith tennis was being combined as a cost-saving measure. The selection committee took into account evaluation criteria including years of experience in the tennis industry, willingness to pay rent or share revenue and willingness to assume facility maintenance.

Martines has filed a protest against the decision, claiming the selection committee and process were flawed. Martines said in an interview he didn’t want to operate two tennis centers but was forced to bid on the joint contract when the Public Services Department determined Liberty Park would be combined with Dee Smith.

"They turned the decision over to the bureaucrats," Martines said.

The city’s request for proposal (RFP) calling for bids is public information. But the bids from various entities are secret to ensure that the process is free from fixes. Once a contract is signed, however, all the information becomes public. It would be illegal for the mayor or the City Council to interfere with the procurement process while it is ongoing.

The office of Mayor Ralph Becker has been inundated with emails and phone calls regarding Coach Mike’s Academy, said spokesman Art Raymond. "All the negative feelings let us know we have to rethink things," Raymond said. "It’s a teaching moment for us. We’re looking at how we could have done this better."

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