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Secrecy surrounding closure of Galt Boys and Girls Club may be linked to potential lawsuit

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2002 10:00 pm

The secrecy behind the indefinite closure of the Galt Boys and Girls Club due to mold inside the building may be linked to attempts to avoid a possible lawsuit against the city.

The City Council discussed the Boys and Girls Club building Tuesday night, shortly after City Manager Ted Anderson learned in what he termed a "preliminary report" that mold was found in the mechanical room of the building at Chabolla and Caroline avenues. The city of Galt owns the building.

City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler's office said the issue was discussed in a meeting closed to the public Tuesday to discuss "potential litigation against the city."

City officials were notified of the mold late Tuesday afternoon by an expert hired by the city to study the substance, said Boyce Jeffries, Galt's parks and recreation director, which led to the council discussion a short time later. On Wednesday, Anderson said he was informed of the mold Tuesday morning, not Tuesday afternoon.

What is mold?

Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. Indoors, they can be found where humidity levels are high, such as basements or showers.

Areas with high mold exposure include antique shops, greenhouses, saunas, farms, mills, construction areas, flower shops and summer cottages.

Individuals react differently to molds. People with allergies may be more sensitive to molds. People with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections.

Symptoms can include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation or wheezing. More severe reactions include fever and shortness of breath. Those with chronic illness, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

City officials don't know whether or not the mold is toxic.

Jeffries said he hopes the mold will be analyzed for toxicity by sometime next week, although it could take 10 or 12 working days.

The mold expert will investigate the entire building rather than just the location where the mold was found, Anderson said. Neither Anderson nor Jeffries could recall the full name of the mold expert.

Although the mold was confirmed Tuesday, a park and recreation employee, checking the gymnasium at the Boys and Girls Club for the upcoming city league basketball season, discovered what he considered might be mold as early as Oct. 29, Jeffries said.

Anderson said he chose to not close the gymnasium last week until he knew whether or not the substance was mold because he didn't want to alarm parents.

"We didn't have all the information," Anderson said.

Sherry Jackson, whose 8-year-old son participates in Boys and Girls Club activities, said she isn't so sure that the building should have been closed last week as a precautionary measure, but parents should have been notified last week about the potential for mold. That would have allowed parents to decide what action they should take with their own children, Jackson said.

"At least they should have notified the public that there could be a health risk," Jackson said. "If they were forthcoming, it would have been fine. I would have appreciated them for protecting my kid."

Although the city of Galt owns the building, the city's responsibility lies with the city-operated City Tots Preschool classes, which have been held at the Boys and Girls Club building, Anderson said.

"It's not our responsibility to take care of the building," he said.

The responsibility for maintenance, Anderson said, lies with the Boys and Girls Club, which leases the building from the city for $1 per year.

City preschool classes were canceled for the rest of this week and will resume Tuesday at Littleton Community Center, 420 Civic Drive.

It was up to the Boys and Girls Club - not the city - whether to shut down its program in the mold-infested building, according to Anderson.

"To run tests like that, you can't have people in there," said Shane McLatchey, executive director of the Galt Boys and Girls Club. "I am happy the city is going in and taking a proactive approach with it. They are taking action that's in all our best interests."

Some children - but not all of them - were given a small slip of paper on Tuesday stating that the building would be closed Wednesday.

"My husband picked up our son at 4:30 (Tuesday); everything was normal," Jackson said. "About 5:30, my cousin picked up her son. As her son was walking out, they handed him a 1-inch strip of paper with no date on it."

The note said the building would be closed "to survey for possible remodeling," Jackson said.

Jackson's cousin asked an employee what the note meant, and the employee reportedly said, "We're closing our doors. We're not sure for how long."

At an emergency meeting at noon Wednesday, the Boys and Girls Club board arranged for after-school programs to be moved to Fairsite Elementary School about a block away until the mold had been examined.

However, Jackson said Thursday afternoon she was never notified that her son, who attends River Oaks Elementary School, had the option to participate in Boys and Girls Club activities at Fairsite.

The Boys and Girls Club notified all Galt schools of the program's temporary move to Fairsite on Wednesday afternoon, McLatchey said.

"The only notification we have received is from the media," Jackson said. "They haven't told us anything. They have not personally contacted me in writing or by telephone.

"Just the whole way they went about it was ridiculous. It sounded like they were covering up some kind of scandal."

McLatchey and Fairsite Principal Mike Scully said the program has run smoothly since it was moved to Fairsite. Only 30 students participated Wednesday, and a few more showed up the next day. The turnout was down from the 100 to 200 children who typically participate.

"The Boys and Girls Club had at least five staff members and did a nice job," Scully said. "They set up in the cafeteria, and they had some games going on."

There was also a movie in one part of the cafeteria and another area for students to do homework, Scully said.

Not only are children allowed to attend activities at Fairsite from after school until 6 p.m., but they may use the Lodi and Sacramento Boys and Girls clubs at no additional charge by showing their membership card.

Galt's morning program has been moved to the former Breakaway Sports building on Industrial Drive. For more information, leave a message at 745-9743.

City Clerk Liz Aguire and Councilman Darryl Clare said the Boys and Girls Club issue was discussed in closed session Tuesday even though they are not aware of any claim being filed against the city. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Nevertheless, an attorney specializing in the Ralph M. Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, said he doesn't see a violation by the City Council.

Jim Ewert, an attorney for California Newspaper Publishers Association, said he doesn't think a court would rule against the city because any action to potentially reduce city liability would constitute a permissible topic in closed session.

Clare said he hopes the newly elected City Council will give Anderson greater authority to make day-to-day decisions without seeking City Council approval.

Comments about this story? Send mail to the News-Sentinel newsroom.


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