In a workshop on July 10, the Cortez City Council discussed a complex proposal that could require swimming instructors not employed by the city to have liability insurance.
Interim city manager Chris Burkett brought a recommendation to the council from the city’s insurance carrier, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, suggesting that every nonstaff member who uses a city facility have liability insurance. He specifically focused on the Municipal Outdoor Pool, which he said is frequently used by private swimming instructors not covered by the city’s insurance. Council members raised several concerns about the proposal, including its potential effects on other city properties, and one instructor spoke up during the regular meeting to oppose it.
Burkett said the city’s lack of a policy regarding outside instructors could open it up to lawsuits if anyone was hurt during a class.
“The question becomes, for staff, how do we try to determine who’s good, who’s not, what’s OK, what’s not OK?’” he said.
He and Parks and Recreation Director Dean Palmquist brought a draft of the policy to the workshop, with wording that would prohibit all “outside instructors” without insurance from using city property. But Burkett admitted that a final version of the policy would be difficult to pass and even more difficult to enforce.
Some issues council members brought up about the policy included its definition of an “outside instructor,” and whether such a definition would apply to everyone who teaches skills on city property, or only those who charge money. Councilman Ty Keel said it wouldn’t necessarily be easy for staff to tell a family member teaching relatives how to swim apart from a professional instructor teaching a class.
“If I’m out in the park with my son and some of his friends, and I’m teaching them something about baseball ... am I going to be in violation of something?” he said. “This is an endless series of questions, and honestly, I think it’s very heavy-handed and authoritative to have a policy like this.”
But the city’s executive assistant, Dawn McCabe-Lightenburger, said such a policy could also protect residents from unqualified instructors by requiring approval by the city.
“Background checks really are important,” she said. “We’ve had volunteers request to coach peewee basketball that have come back that they’ve had child abuse charges.”
Mayor Karen Sheek suggested applying the city’s current policy for recreational sports instructors – in which the volunteers undergo background checks and pay a fee to be covered by city insurance – to instructors on all city property, or at least for those who run for-profit businesses. But Keel said he thought even that policy might be too hard to enforce.
City Attorney Mike Green said an anti-liability policy like the one Burkett proposed wouldn’t be a guaranteed protection from lawsuits. Councilwoman Sue Betts agreed.
“The bottom line is, if they’re going to sue you, they’re going to sue you,” she said.
Although the council didn’t come close to making a decision on the policy, at least two residents have opposed it.
During the public comment period, Beth Domenichini, who said she has been teaching swim lessons at the outdoor pool for several years, was concerned that the policy seemed to target the pool, which is regularly staffed, more than other city properties with less staffing, such as the parks and tennis courts.
Another resident, Cindy Elliott, gave the council written statements from two people who said a pool supervisor told them in June that the city already had a policy prohibiting outside instructors without insurance.
Council members assured Domenichini and Elliott that the process of drafting a policy for outside instructors is still in its early stages.
During the workshop, Sheek asked Burkett to do more research on the topic and write a second draft of the policy for discussion at a future workshop.