The GVR Board of Directors approved a nearly $1.2 million contract to build eight pickleball courts in an 11-1 vote Wednesday, but the approval came in a secret ballot that drew open dissent from the crowd.
Board president Charles Sieck's motion to vote on whether the contract should be decided by secret ballot was met with jeers and outbursts of "No!" from many of the 65 people in attendance. The vote to use a secret ballot was approved, 9-3.
After the meeting, Sieck said he made the motion after four directors privately asked the vote be done by secret ballot. Sieck, who was elected in 2018 on a platform that called for more transparency and open governance, conceded a secret ballot may have sent the wrong message.
But Sieck said potential blowback from those in the Pickleball Club was a legitimate reason to call for a secret ballot and it was not a move toward secrecy.
"It's very rare that we would ever do something like that," Sieck said. "But because of the constituency of the Pickleball Club, they are very vocal and they attack anything that appears to be non-pro pickleball. For this particular circumstance, yep, it flies in the face of transparency."
Sieck asked the audience and those in the Pickleball Club not to send streams of emails to directors as well, which was met with laughs and jeers. While Sieck is not opposed to GVR members communicating with board members, what Sieck called a coordinated effort by the Pickleball Club resulted in dozens of emails to directors, he said. Sieck did note that 99 percent of the emails were civil.
"If somebody really wants to have an impact and get the board's attention, set up a meeting with the board," he said. "Invite us and we'll come listen. That means a lot as opposed to clogging up my inbox."
The secret ballot and calls to stop coordinated email campaigns weren't the only items to cause the audience to become cantankerous at times.
A $100,000 donation from Freeport-McMoRan was accepted to be used, in part, to build restrooms for the pickleball center on land near Canoa Preserve Park. Since GVR now has the Freeport funds, the audience asked directors why they're not going to use money that frees up to build additional courts.
The board did not offer a clear reason why more money would not be redirected to the pickleball center during the meeting, upsetting several people in the audience. After the meeting, Sieck said that while the Freeport donation frees up GVR funds, it does not necessarily mean the money must be redirected to the Pickleball Club.
"I'm not exaggerating, there's 800 people in the Pickleball Club, 24,000 members in GVR, so 3 percent," Sieck said. "And we're spending over a million dollars on them. So, from a proportion standpoint, we're spending more on the Pickleball Club. On a per-member basis, it's about two or three times what we have (on) anybody else."
A presentation by WSM Architects prior to the vote said more courts could be added at the estimated bid rate if a decision is made by Sept. 1. Four more courts would run $85,000; eight more would be an additional $166,000.
The pickleball contract was awarded to Tucson-based Division II Construction Co. Inc. General Contractors and Denver-based court sub-contractor, Renner.
The new pickleball center should break ground in mid-July and courts are expected to be ready in January.
Despite the tension surrounding the construction of the pickleball center over the years, it is not the outbursts, emails or conflicts that have bothered Sieck the most, he said.
"The most embarrassing thing ... is that it took four years to do it," Sieck said. "The Pickleball Club, on one side, I can see why they're raising hell. I would, too. They've been waiting four years for this. They had it coming. But somewhere along the line you have to be fair to the other 95 percent as well."