High Prairie pool manager fired after award winning year

The High Prairie Regional Aquatic Centre won two awards from the Canadian Red Cross last year under the Petersen couple’s management. The first was for Largest Programming Growth in 2015-16 and for Highest Sales in Swimming and Water Safety for Municipalities Under 5,000 Population. Above, Seth Petersen and Ginger Petersen accept the awards.

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Difference of opinion on how the High Prairie Regional Aquatic Centre should be operating and the future of the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board, are the reasons Ginger Petersen believes she was abruptly fired from her job as the pool’s manager.
Ginger, and her husband Seth, who handled operations and maintenance matters, were both fired by recreation director Lori Matthews April 3.
The move has resulted in a fire storm on social media. Many are criticizing the decision. Many others simply want to know what happened.
In all, five staff members as of April 6 resigned since the firings. Many of those and others wrote glowing letters of support for the Petersens, asking for the couple’s re-instatement.
Petersen says she repeatedly voiced concerns about meeting ever-increasing safety standards for the pool, the operation of the recreation board, and increased salaries for staff at the pool.
“We’ve been trying to work toward more safety as set out by the standards [Life Saving Society],” says Ginger. “The town is liable in case of a drowning” because they own the facility.
Ginger also sought improvement in the recreation board’s personnel policy, which she describes as weak and in need of being more fair.
“Everything is at the discretion of the recreation director,” she says.
The wage issue was an ongoing discussion. It appears continuing efforts by the Town of High Prairie to hold the line on overall spending increases across all its operations became an issue at the recreation board.
The recreation board, which is 50 per cent funded by the Town of High Prairie and Big Lakes County, interpreted town council’s demands to hold the line as a wage freeze. This, even while the recreation board was declaring a small surplus in its operations, and was expanding office staff.
On March 31, one staff member quit over the decision. Petersen says she wanted to meet to discuss the matter and ask why raises were not approved as she recommended. She was fired April 3.
The Aquatic Centre, like other major recreation facilities in High Prairie, is not managed directly by either the Town of High Prairie, or Big Lakes County. Instead, the Aquatic Centre, ball diamonds, Sports Palace and Gordon Buchanan Centre, come under the jurisdiction of the recreation board. The board does not directly answer to either of the local governments except through their appointment of board members, two each from the town and county councils.
In turn, the board passes direct control of the facilities to their own managers, who are in turn supervised by the recreation director, Matthews.
In what appears to be an unforseen move by many outside the recreation board, but perfectly within her authority, Matthews terminated both Petersens at the same time.
Over the years, three governance reviews of Town of High Prairie operations mentioned the recreation board system as not appropriate. The third and last review, known as the Johnsrude Report, five years ago recommended the recreation board actually be dissolved.
The same report was highly critical of the entire operation of High Prairie town council of the time. As a result, town council was placed under control of a provincial administrator. Following that, in a byelection due to the resignation of then mayor Rick Dumont, and the general municipal election three and one-half years ago, the entire council of the day was voted out of office. The recreation board continued, with new members from town council.
Petersen says she was also a strong advocate for dismantling the recreation board, and wrote letters and/or reports to that effect. Her letters were never made public by the recreation board. Petersen believes her thoughts angered the board and Matthews.
Petersen has her training in National Lifeguard Instructor, Water Safety Instructor Training, and Aquatic Emergency Care Instructor. She also teaches First Aid.
Due to the firings, Ginger is not available to teach Aquatic Zumba so it is now cancelled. The pool schedule has since been redrawn and the new schedule is on the Centre’s website.
The Petersens arrived in High Prairie in August 2013 and could be entitled to a payout based on legislation.
The pool won two awards from the Canadian Red Cross last year under Petersen’s management. The first was for Largest Programming Growth in 2015-16 and for Highest Sales in Swimming and Water Safety for Municipalities Under 5,000 Population.
High Prairie Mayor Linda Cox says she is keeping a close watch as events unfold, but is also referring all requests for information to the recreation board.
“Both the CAO of Big Lakes County Rob Brideau and the Town CAO Brian Martinson, are working with Lori Matthews and the available rec board members. That is all I can say at this time.”
On the Town of High Prairie website, Cox makes the following comment: “Recently on social media, there have been many conversations regarding the administration of the Recreation Board and the Aquatic Centre. At this time, the Chief Administrative Officers of both the Town and the County are working together to ensure that the situation is resolved in an unbiased manner.
“I wish to assure all Aquatic Centre users that the town takes the safety of our patrons seriously and will ensure that all staffing levels and maintenance requirements are met during the pools operational hours.
“We appreciate the dedication of the aquatic staff in making our Aquatic Centre one of the best in the Peace Country.
“I understand that there are many rumours and opinions being posted on social media, but at this time I have full confidence in the two CAOs with their expertise in management and conflict resolution.”
Ginger makes no apologies for her stand.
“If I know something is wrong, I will voice my concerns,” she says. “This involves lives, it makes it personal for me.”
Efforts are still being made by South Peace News to receive a response from the recreation board. The story will be updated if and when a response is received.
Big Lakes County reeve Ken Matthews is vacationing in Hawaii and was not available for comment.
High Prairie Regional Recreation Board chair Arlen Quartly is holidaying in Arizona, and is also not available for comment.
High Prairie Regional Recreation Board director Lori Matthews has not returned calls asking for comment.

Coming News – Petitions started
For more, Click “Aquatic Centre Staff Support Petersens”

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