BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Seven Oaks resident Scott Whyte is taking on the city of Bakersfield over its policy on wearing T-shirts in city pools.
Rules on the city's website require "(s)wimsuits" and say "Shirts, shorts, denim or cut-offs are not permitted."
At McMurtrey Aquatic Center, where Whyte began swimming in September, rules posted at the entrance and in two locations nearer the pool state "Proper swimsuits are required for those entering the pool. No street clothes allowed."
But Whyte, 64, who wears a T-shirt when swimming because he has scars from open-heart surgery and past issues with precancerous skin, believes the rules are unclear, and thinks city officials have been arrogant in their responses to him.
He's planning to attend the Bakersfield City Council meeting March 19 to reiterate a request he made at its March 5 meeting: that the matter be referred to a council committee for review.
City officials say the rules are clear, and so long as Whyte follows them -- he was briefly expelled from all city pools in January -- he's welcome to take a dip.
The issue dates to September, Whyte said, when a McMurtrey lifeguard told him he couldn't wear the T-shirt he'd found at the Cal State Bakersfield pool -- but a supervisor said he could.
It's white with blue lettering and advertises the Allan Hancock College Holiday Classic 2000, a basketball tournament.
Whyte kept being questioned by pool staff, but he was able to keep wearing it, he said in a Jan. 10 letter to the City Attorney, until Nov. 14, when a different lifeguard told him he couldn't.
So he switched, wearing two Towncraft-brand T-shirts that were 50 percent cotton and 50 percent polyester, similar, he said, to a "rash guard" T-shirt for swimming.
On Dec. 26, however, he said the pool manager interrupted his swim to ask if the shirts were cotton. Whyte said he told her "No," but on the next lap she asked to see the tag. When she walked along the side of the pool yelling at him as he swam, he said he yelled "Leave me alone" at her.
Seeing the pool was almost empty, Whyte said he stood up to find other swimmers had left the pool and were yelling at him to do the same.
In the dressing room, when a city staffer started telling him he'd violated the pool rules, Whyte writes he told the man "I didn't think he understood their own policy."
Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover declined to discuss specifics of the incidents.
"I don't really want to get into all the he-said-she-said because that's not right," Hoover said. "I know what his argument is. We don't agree."
Whyte's day didn't end there, though.
When another swimmer referred to him using an expletive and threatened to beat him up, Whyte responded with an expletive -- the only time he said he swore.
As he left, Whyte wrote in his letter, the receptionist informed him he was being "kicked out forever."
On Jan. 3, the city made it official in a letter from Recreation Supervisor Terri Elison, informing Whyte his "complete disregard" of pool rules not only disrupted lap swim, but "jeopardized the safety of our pool operation."
"Additionally, the profanity and your threatening and abusive language directed at staff was unacceptable," Elison wrote. "This behavior is not tolerated and your expulsion is permanent."
Whyte fired back Jan. 10, informing the City Attorney's office that Bakersfield's Aquatics Manual isn't specific about the difference between T-shirts, which are forbidden, and "sport tops" and "rash guard shirts," which are allowed.
He also pointed out that under Section 12.56.055 of Bakersfield Municipal Code, people can only be expelled for 24 hours from "any and all city recreation and park facilities, including city swimming pools."
The city partially relented, in a Jan. 22 letter from Associate City Attorney Richard Iger -- informing Whyte if he wanted to start swimming at McMurtrey again, he'd have to follow all the pool rules.
Iger said in an interview the Aquatics Manual is a training manual for lifeguards and it is not the official pool rules. Those are posted at each pool.
"It's not making sense to me why he's getting so confused on it," Iger said. "From what I've heard, he has been swimming at the pool site with an acceptable shirt a few times. I think he understands the rules, he just doesn't care to listen."
Whyte confirmed that after he was expelled from McMurtrey he bought a 100 percent synthetic T-shirt at Marshall's for $6 -- and not only brought it with him to a meeting with Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, but wore it swimming a few times.
"Yeah, I went swimming in it a few times, but I tell you, I like my T-shirt better. It's more comfortable and easier to get off," Whyte said. "This whole thing is about the abuse of power I experienced and the subsequent arrogance from the city in saying 'You disobeyed the rules.' They don't want to discuss the way the rules are enforced."
Hoover said T-shirts are forbidden for safety reasons.
"Cotton T-shirts, when they fill with water, they're loose, and if there was an incident where the lifeguard would have to go in, the lifeguard could get tangled, the shirt could come off or get loose," she said.
Smith pointed out that Whyte now owns a synthetic T-shirt, and if he abides by the rules, he can swim at McMurtry again, but added, "He's stuck and I'm not sure how to get him unstuck."
Whyte, who commutes to San Luis Obispo for work, said he's found a solution: He swims at a city pool there -- where T-shirts are allowed.