Lifeguard company resigns amid firing scandal

Fired lifeguard receives key to city


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – In the wake of a controversial lifeguard firing, the company contracted to provide the city of Hallandale Beach with beach patrol has resigned effective at the end of its contract on Sept. 30. 

Ocoee-based Jeff Ellis Management notified the city manager in a letter Monday morning.

The lifeguard, Tomas Lopez, was at Hallandale Beach City Hall on Monday to receive a key to the city for his efforts in saving a tourist in trouble in the water last week.  Lopez was then fired for insubordination for disobeying orders to stay in his assigned zone, though the company later offered to reinstate him. 

"We're still doing our research of how they would even make this decision," said Mayor Joy Cooper. "From what see, it's irresponsible. Their internal policy is a disgrace, and if I ran the company, I would not have adopted that policy," she said. 

Though the mayor and other city leaders blame JEM, the company's policies relative to managing Hallandale Beach beaches are not spelled out in the contract. The contract states that the company must adhere to the "standards of the city," though not what those standards are; it mandates that the lifeguards are "trained and licensed through the company," but gives no detail about the standards the training and licensing should meet.  

Hallandale Beach is the only South Florida city to outsource lifeguards, though others have considered doing it. The move puts the core government responsibility of life safety in private hands. 

"It was a big cost-saving measure," said William Julian, the city's former vice mayor, who made the original motion in 2003 to outsource beach patrol.  He did not deny that the city was looking to replace longtime, experienced, costly lifeguards with cheaper labor. 

The "No" vote on Jeff Ellis Management's contract extension in 2009 was Commissioner Keith London, who said the city is ultimately responsible for what happened last week. 

In its resignation letter to the city, JEM said it saved the city $3.6 million in beach patrol costs during its tenure as contracted provider. 

At the August  meeting, the Hallandale Beach City Commission is scheduled to discuss whether to continue outsourcing beach patrol or return it to an internal service.

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