Sometimes an applicant shines in an interview and gives all the right answers and a CV tailored to fit the qualifications of a particular job.
Sometimes, however, it is an applicant’s references that make them a standout candidate, as those who have had personal experience attest to a track record of success.
Deciding between one and the other can be a challenge. But on Tuesday, the Costa Mesa City Council — in deciding on a permanent operator for the 12-court Costa Mesa Tennis Center — leaned away from a staff recommendation and toward the references of dozens of voters who supported the Top Seed Tennis Academy.
Since longtime center operator Hank Lloyd retired in February 2022 after 24 years of service, city officials have been searching for a permanent successor for the city-owned facility, which generates about $1 million in revenue annually. Calabasas-based Top Seed was selected to serve on an interim basis while staff sought input in the process of selecting a final operator.
The process was lengthy, involving several public meetings with myriad community stakeholders and drafting a rubric that would weigh potential candidates in certain categories, including experience, key people, approach and cost, Finance Director Carol Molina told council members.
After reviewing proposals from nine different operators, staff weighed each applicant’s performance and selected three firms to proceed to interviews.
Performances in this second round, which included an opportunity for candidates to make a last, best and final financial offer, were also weighted and tallied into an overall rubric score to determine a primary candidate.
Agape Tennis Academy, which manages tennis centers in Fountain Valley and Oxnard, earned the highest score of 4,182, while Costa Mesa-based Hard Court Sports, LLC was second with 3,547 and Top Seed was third with a score of 3,210.
“As a result of counting the information in all the areas, Agape Tennis Academy got the highest score in phase 2 and overall,” said Molina.
When members of the public had the opportunity to weigh in, one clear message was: Don’t change something that works.
Although several clients, students and trainers spoke in favor of the other candidates, including Agape – which operates on the core values of honesty, excellence, attitude, responsibility and teamwork (HEART) – a majority of speakers supported keeping the Top Seed.
When Top Seed was awarded the interim contract, its ownership allowed the coaches already working at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center to remain and take more of a leadership role in day-to-day operations, according to speaker testimony.
Longtime and well-respected trainer Syd Ball and his sons, Cameron, Carsten and Christian, kept the spirit of the facility established by Lloyd and his wife, Maureen, during their 24 years overseeing the site, explained resident Dean Sexton.
“What they do is bring positive energy, a sense of family, respect and true dedication to the game of tennis to every player who steps foot on those courts,” he said. “A change in ownership would not only be detrimental, but a disservice to the very essence that makes this special and important to our community.”
John Tenney, who has played at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center for the past 15 years, said the people who use the facility should have some sort of say in oversight.
“I appreciate the Agape people for showing up and supporting their leadership, but they don’t play here. We are playing here and we are not asking for a change,” he said. “You have world-class people in your hands. Why would you make a change when those who play there are not asking for it?”
After hearing comments from more than 80 people, Councilman Loren Gameros made a motion to deviate from the staff-recommended Agape Tennis Academy and begin negotiations for a contract with Top Seed.
“I believe the voters have spoken and we are here to serve the constituency, not only for this community, but in the interest of what happens at the Tennis Centre.”
Councilman Jeff Harlan, who started playing tennis at the center when he moved to town 17 years ago, agreed.
“I am very aware that a public hearing cannot just be a popularity contest,” he said. “The question for me, as I’ve been asking all night, is who can best serve the community and based on what?
“We have something truly remarkable here in the Ball family. I see no measurable reason to deviate from what I know and what we’ve heard here tonight works.”