Placing our priorities

Posted 5/30/24

“I’m a chlorine addict.”

Was I hearing Joe McGair correctly? Was he spending so much time in McDermott Pool that he actually has become addicted to chlorine?

Surely …

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Placing our priorities


“I’m a chlorine addict.”

Was I hearing Joe McGair correctly? Was he spending so much time in McDermott Pool that he actually has become addicted to chlorine?

Surely that’s not possible, but the retired lawyer and former councilman, state senator and one time candidate for mayor, is an early morning regular at the pool. Joe read my column on the therapy of walking in water that Conimicut neighbors Leslie and Bill Derrig introduced me to in response to the after effects of back surgery. Joe pointed out I’d find him there when the pool opens at 5:30 a.m. I’m not quite ready for that, but it’s something to shoot for.

I recall the pool was designed to be both an indoor and outdoor amenity. And to my recollection that feature and its size played a role in obtaining federal funding for the project.  Since its opening I’ve visited it on multiple occasions ranging from swim meets to life saving training and the opening of the adjoining much smaller “hot” therapy pool. Then during the pandemic it closed. As pandemic restrictions were relaxed, pressure mounted to reopen it, but conditions had deteriorated to the point that it would require a major overhaul. Shortages of equipment and supply chains further delayed efforts until the day the media gathering around a hydrant as Mayor Frank Picozzi, wielding a giant wrench, turned the valve which didn’t immediately send water gushing into the repainted pool. The snafu, a reminder that things don’t always go as planned, was quickly remedied.

Over the years my memories of the pool are filled with entering a steamy environment where my camera lens would cloud over and my clothes would become infiltrated with the smell of chlorine. The lack of the odor of chlorine was among the first things I noticed on entering the pool with the Derrigs. The clarity of the water and the absence of people (we arrived a half hour before the 3 p.m. closing to adult swimming) were the other immediate impressions.

If Joe is addicted the chlorine he’s not getting much of a fix at McDermott.

Our discussion of the pool pivoted to the budget. Those who followed budget deliberations of the past week know that Mayor’s Picozzi’s projection of $1.3 million in revenue from school speed zone violations and motorists running red lights was a lightening rod. The council hasn’t considered the cameras and how could the administration project revenues based on the presumption it would approve the program.

Turning back the clock to the early 1970s, soon after the Navy pulled out of Quonset and the state economy was in freefall, then mayor Joe Walsh and the city council were faced with declining revenues. It was a choice between cutting services and raising taxes. While this is not a parallel to today’s budget considerations – the upcoming budget includes a “modest” tax increase and preserves services – it is illustrative of the hard choices elective officials can face.

Joe remembered the budget agonies of the 70s when the goal was to trim as much as possible. McDermott Pool was targeted. The council compared pool revenues with its cost. It was a loser. The consensus leaned toward closing it.

The contrarian was Joe, who had never used the pool. He argued that unlike businesses, government services are not designed to make a profit, but rather to fulfill community needs and enrich quality of life. A convincing orator, Joe observed how the pool served those who couldn’t afford country club memberships and the elderly.

“Joe Walsh knew I was right,” he said noting that the administration and the council dropped the proposal to close the pool.

Now that Joe is a pool regular and I have come to appreciate it, too – especially sans the overwhelming odor of chlorine – I’m happy to pay the few pennies it means on the tax rate.  As for traffic cameras, let’s not lose sight of their intended benefit of making school zones and intersections safer, rather than get hung up on whether revenue projections are accurate and the finer details of the program. Those points will become clear in time as hopefully will motorists’ attention to safe driving.


priorities, side up


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