Jacksonville Beach ends partnership with volunteer lifeguard organization

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Negotiations between the City of Jacksonville Beach and the Volunteer Life Saving Corps have come to an end after working together since 1912.

This comes after the city and the VLSC attempted to reach an agreement for months.

The volunteers had worked on Sundays and holidays, while the guards employed by the city worked Monday through Saturday.

In 2021 the U.S. Department of Labor found that the relationship between the VLSC and the city’s paid lifeguards violated federal law due to city-employed guards volunteering their time.

“Our plan was to have an all-volunteer workforce with no overlap with the paid guards,” said Tim Saggau with the VLSC.

That would’ve included retired lifeguards. “They volunteered to get re-trained,” he explained “It’s like a camaraderie, it’s hard to describe.

On March 9, 2022, the city sent a 9-month notice to the VLSC about the end of the agreement.

However, on Tuesday, Mike Staffopoulos, Jacksonville Beach’s city manager sent a letter to the VLSC’s board of directors. The letter states that the city can no longer move forward with the partnership.

“The City staff shall have exclusive use of any City equipment, and that the City shall have exclusive use of the Station and its grounds during the City’s normal Ocean Rescue operating hours to minimize interference with day to day operations,” Staffopoulos wrote.

The city barred the VLSC access to the station, even changing the locks to the building.

“Nobody has a right to do that,” Saggau asserted.

The station has traditionally been a shared space. The city told Action News Jax that the barred access is effective immediately.

The city claims that on Sunday around 50 members of the VLSC showed up at the station to disrupt and interfere with the work of city staff. It described their actions as “disruptive” and “unprofessional.”

Saggau with the VLSC shared a letter with Action News Jax that rejects the claim and other claims of harassment.

“The claim that this graduation ceremony disrupted training is ludicrous,” he told Action News Jax on Monday.

“I was there as I have been for many graduations in the last 50 years,” Saggau wrote. “We did not ‘descend’ but simply rode bikes or walked to celebrate the entrance into the VLSC of our Winter Class candidates. Their families were also there. We did not ‘disrupt and interfere’ but simply celebrated the new VLSC members as we have done for over 100 years. Never have those activities interfered with lifeguard services.”

In Staffopoulos’ letter to the VLSC, he also addressed the use of the station.

“It is the City’s understanding, through discussions with the VLSC and the American Red Cross, that no agreement exists between the two parties providing VLSC access to the Station, and that the VLSC is granted access to the Station only through the 2016 Agreement between the City and the VLSC,” Staffopoulos wrote.

Saggau pointed out that the 2016 agreement, states that the VLSC and city may both conduct activities from the station.

“Neither agreement contemplates that one party or the other controls access to the station but rather that we are all able to use it for our respective needs,” Saggau wrote. “The paid guards and the VLSC have handled Station access for 90 years with little or no interference from the City Manager.”

The VLSC has asked the city to respond to their concerns by noon on Monday and has also asked the city to provide access codes to the station immediately.

“This is our beach. This is where we’ve been for 110 years, since 1912 and this is where we want to be,” Saggau emphasized.

Jacksonville Beach will still have guards seven days a week and on holidays.

Action News Jax reached out to Staffopoulos’ office on Monday, April 11, however his office informed us he was not available to speak on any updates regarding this topic before our deadline of 10:30 a.m. We followed up to request a written statement or an interview at a later time, and we have not heard back yet.

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