All wet: Rec class refund swamped

As the subject line for an email, "aquatic nightmare" might be expected to include a shark, a riptide, or the catastrophic failure of diving gear. Instead– as I learned to my disappointment– this week's aggrieved consumer hadn't even entered the water. And that, it turned out, was the problem.


Clayton Greiman signed up for three aquatic classes through Charlottesville Parks and Recreation, but things got off to a bum start when he showed up at Washington Park pool on June 13 for the first class, beginning swimming, and was one of only two students. A few minutes later, he says, the instructor arrived and said that since they were the only ones registered, the class "most likely" would be cancelled. It was.

This was made more frustrating by the fact that, as Greiman tells it, he had called Parks and Rec the week before to see whether the class would go ahead as planned and was told that, to the best of the employee's knowledge, it would.

Greiman's next class, springboard diving, was scheduled to start on June 18 at Onesty Pool. "But," he claims, "having learned a lesson from Class #1," he was more assiduous this time about getting a prognosis. First, an Onesty Pool employee– who reportedly said that the class, almost certainly, wouldn't happen– told him to call the pool's manager. She, in turn, told him to call Keith Meyerl, supervisor for the City's aquatics program. Greiman claims he left a message for Meyerl on the afternoon of the June 17, but didn't get a return call. He concluded– correctly, he later learned– that the class had been cancelled, and didn't bother showing up the following day.

Based on his experiences with Class #1 and Class #2, Greiman decided to throw in his beach towel and didn't even try to learn whether Class #3, intermediate swimming, would happen. Instead, in a June 18 email to Meyerl, he cancelled his registration and requested a refund of $96 for all three classes. Since he claimed he'd been told by the instructor for the first cancelled class that "it could take a month or two to get a refund," he wrote that he knew better than to expect a check "anytime in the near future."

He also made several suggestions for how the City could improve its registration and cancellation system for aquatics classes, such as centralizing the process so that students could call one location– instead of individual pools or City employees – to learn a class's status. That way, he wrote, "there wouldn't be anymore of this 'Oh, you have to call back at such and such a time to speak to so and so.'"

Meyerl replied promptly, on June 20, to apologize and thank Greiman for his suggestions. "A centralized registration process would improve our service," he wrote, "and in fact the City is installing such a program."

"I will submit your refund request," he wrote in closing, "and you should expect that refund within two weeks." Alas, two weeks came and went, and then four weeks. Greiman emailed me on July 22, and on August 2– when he still hadn't received his refund– I spoke with Meyerl.

"Due to human error," Meyerl told me, the check had never been sent. He would process the check that day, however, and was "going to try to rush that through."

"We take customer service seriously," he said, and agreed that the current system is inefficient; issuing a refund, for instance, is a three-step process, which begins at the pool where the cancelled class was scheduled to take place. But now that CityLink– the City's new integrated computer system– is in place, Meyerl said that Parks and Rec will be upgrading its system in phases.

That's cold comfort, of course, for Greiman.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.