The Board of Finance.
The Board of Finance meeting Wednesday at Town Hall.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — A request to extend the Longshore Sailing School’s lease by 10 years encountered some headwinds Wednesday night at a Board of Finance meeting.

The request by Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Fava was tabled by the board after members had a long list of questions about the contract, and some speakers questioned the fairness of the bidding process.

Going over the contract page by page, board members had questions about the contract and the operation.

Chairman Lee Caney summed up their outstanding questions which had to do with safety reviews and requirements and who handles them; if there was an increase in usage could more boats be purchased; could some board members see financial statements from the school; could the town inspect the building before the lease is signed; whether the liability coverage was correct, and whether the town should require a security deposit.

There have been online discussions about the sailing school lease, including accusations the bidding process was stacked in favor of the existing operation and against two first-time bidders.

Jane Pimentel.
Jane Pimentel

“I’m really comfortable with our safety standards,” said Jane Pimentel, who runs the sailing school.

One woman said she’s sailed with the school and community sailing organizations elsewhere.

“What they give to the community, and what Jane gives to Westport is unbelievable,” she said. “She worked through COVID, she had the operation open.”

She said a lot of the online discussion “is not a fact, it’s an opinion.”

Tom Malin said he also has sailed at the school, and that his son and other college students who planned to work there over the summer were considering other plans because of uncertainty over its lease.

“Summer’s coming,” he said. “Every day, every week that goes by is risking the quality and the safety and the staffing.”

Heidi McGee, who is on the board of a Greenwich sailing school that bid on the Westport contract, asked the board to table the matter.

Tim Malin.
Tim Malin

“The process has been railroaded through,” she said, adding that they’d make a Freedom of Information request “because we felt there wasn’t transparency.”

She also said they felt there was a conflict of interest because one of the people that vetted the bids for the Parks and Recreation Commission had a financial relationship with the school. Stu Gilfillen, director of education for US Sailing, paid Pimentel to teach US Sailing courses.

“How do you choose a for-profit entity that’s proposing higher rates for the classes, for residents and non-residents, higher rental rates?” McGee asked.

Jeff Manchester said many of the questions brought up weren’t previously brought up in the process.

He called the $5,000 yearly rent “outrageous.”

“I was stunned by the lack of, I would say, sophistication for our town,” Manchester said.

“I would just encourage, take a step back, look at all the documents, make sure that the town’s making the right decision for our community,” he said.

Caney said he had trust in the Parks and Recreation Department process.

“I think that Longshore is the school that we’re going to go with, but I do think that we have to nail down these issues, so I think we can table it till next meeting,” he said.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.