Controversy brews over Phoenix program to hire lifeguards

PHOENIX - Phoenix city pools won't be open for another month and a half, but controversy is brewing over a city program aimed to hire lifeguards.

The city's Aquatics Outreach Program used scholarship money to train nearly 200 potential lifeguards from lower to moderate income neighborhoods.

But eyebrows shot up when an NPR article quoted two Phoenix Parks and Recreation workers as they went into an inner city school to recruit.

NPR quotes one worker as saying, "The kids in the pool are all either Hispanic or black or whatever, and every lifeguard is white, and we don't like that."

The workers also told students they weren't looking for strong swimmers, and would work with any swimming abilities.

"That's risky and shameful," said Mark Spencer with Judicial Watch. "It's not a culture that pulls a person out of the pool when they're drowning. It's a lifeguard and the lifeguard with the skill set will make the biggest difference."

We called Phoenix Parks and Recreation spokesman David Urbinato about the comments.

Urbinato would not comment on the quotes, but did say the Aquatics Outreach Program isn't about skin color.

According to the program's guidelines, it's aimed to give kids from low to moderate income neighborhoods a chance to train as a lifeguard.

Urbinato told us the candidates still had to pass requirements and a skills test to become a lifeguard.

The program funded with scholarship money included 196 participants; 145 of them applied for lifeguard jobs and 98 passed the water test requirements.

Of the candidates, 122 were Hispanic, 44 were black, 23 white, and 5 were Asian.

But Spencer still believes the program was nothing more than a risky experiment in diversity.

"I would believe that most parents at a public pool when it came to their family would prefer a skill set to skin color," pressed Spencer.

Seventy-one of the candidates have been offered positions at Phoenix City public pools this summer.

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