By Amy Wenk

Fulton Tennis Services, headed by Ivo and Martine Barbic, has managed the Sandy Springs Tennis Center for 19 years.

But to the dismay of players who frequent the 24 courts off Abernathy Road, new operators could be in the center’s future.

At a Nov. 17 meeting, Director of Parks and Recreation Ronnie Young asked the City Council to grant Windward Tennis Academy the contract to manage the public facility beginning Jan. 1.

Council voted 3 to 2 to table the item for 30 days in response to resident complaints and questions that were raised about the selection process.

It is the first time the city has bid out the management contract since it took control of the tennis center from Fulton County in 2006. A request for proposal was posted on the city’s Web site May 6, and eight companies responded with bids.

A seven-member selection committee in October evaluated the proposals based on experience, operation plans, background, financial stability and cash flow. But only three members made the final decision, which raised questions among Council.

“Did that change the outcome?” Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie asked Young. “Did we miss something in the process?”

Mayor Eva Galambos said she thoroughly read all the proposals.

“I’d rather go with a proven product,” said Galambos, who garnered applause from the audience. “I feel that this procurement process failed to take into account some of the facts and needs to be repeated.”

Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio was uncomfortable with Windward Tennis Academy’s experience. The Alpharetta-based company currently teaches at private courts.

Why should the city “be guinea pigs for a company that has never run a public tennis facility before,” he asked.

Young defended the process that unanimously selected the academy as the best bid.

Assistant City Attorney Cecil McClendon concurred the contract was “handled in a fair and even-handed manner.”

Some members of the board upheld the city’s practices.

“It scares me that we are headed in this direction,” Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said. “We have no reason to question the integrity of this process.”

Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins in a later interview said she wanted to stick with established procedures.

“The winning bid was not Ivo,” she said. “It’s just not as simple as let’s pick our friends.”

Jenkins said her confidence was in Young and the city manager. “These are people who know what they are doing.”

Supporters of the current management came to the Nov. 17 meeting wearing bright yellow stickers that said “Bouncy” and displayed the cartoon tennis player from “Bouncy and Fuzzy,” a book Ivo Barbic wrote in 1987 to explain tennis techniques to children.

“It’s like a family,” said resident Mary Ellen Wilkins, who has played at the center for 46 years and can see the courts from her house. “I would never want to play at another facility.”

Resident Lee Myers also supported the work of Fulton Tennis Services, saying the Barbics give court time to needy children or charity tournaments.

Windward Tennis Academy “is not necessarily a group that is community-minded,” he said.

The Barbics have also made appeals to keep the center.

“Sandy Springs is your city,” Ivo wrote in an email that asked local players to petition the decision. “And SSTC is your tennis center. If you want to keep it that way please show your support!”

In response, the city received around 200 emails opposing the city’s management selection.

“These emails are from people who use the tennis center,” said Andre Barbic, who revealed Nov. 17 to City Council that staff asked his father Ivo to help draft the request for proposal.

“That’s illegal,” Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said to the allegations.

“The whole procedure has got to be thrown out,” Galambos said.

Although the Fulton Tennis Services contract was set to expire on Dec. 30, Council decided to extend it for a month until a decision is reached.