It’s not often you get to hear elected officials overtly trying to tell the media how they should cover a certain issue, on the record at a public meeting. But such was the case at last night’s budget meeting.
Readers need to bear in mind that the vigorous debate that went on between the golf commission members, the controller and the council, is part of a wider context: an ideological battle being fought over who has say and how much in the operations of the beleaguered municipal golf course.
The intrinsic question as to whether the golf course is financially self-sustaining or not has been argued about ever since the conflict over the hiring of the golf pro erupted at the beginning of last year. On one hand, the course’s revenues generally cover it’s expenses on a year-to-year basis. But the course is also dependent on city provided water, sewer, and administrative services.
The idea that the course is 100% self sufficient and funded by membership fees is often used as strong rebuttal to anyone who advocates for change or improvements at the course. So essentially, if you don’t golf, you don’t have a say, end of story.
The way I see it, Golf Commission Chairwoman Pam Ritter is caught in the middle. Earlier last year, she took a lot of criticism from golfers for supporting changes at the course. This year, however, I think she was genuinely blindsided by the additional debt service amount that was added to the course’s budget that ended up causing an $80,000 shortfall in the course’s proposed budget. Ritter wants to make sure people know the commission is being fiscally responsible and I don’t blame her at all. No one involved with the golf course should be blamed for the unexpected shortfall.
At one point in the meeting, Ritter emphasized that the course’s debt payments, along with other expenses, were being covered by membership and user fees. That’s when things got strange.
“That really needs to get out to the public,” said Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler after Ritter’s remark, “That it’s being paid for through the members of the golf course instead of people thinking that it’s being paid for by the city.”
“Hear that Nicole?” Alderman Ron Barone said, looking toward the reporter from the Amsterdam Recorder sitting next to me.
Later in the meeting, when the subject came up again, Hatzenbuhler said, “What I would suggest is the Recorder refrain, maybe you could word it accordingly, refrain from saying the taxpayers are paying for the golf course.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that people in the news business who take their profession seriously, whether they are reporters, editors or publishers, don’t take kindly to being told how to write their stories. I am genuinely curious as to what the reaction to these “suggestions” might be from the city’s oldest newspaper.
As if that weren’t enough, near the very end of the meeting, everyone in the room had a good-natured laugh about Hatzenbuhler’s cell phone going off. Oh the irony! It was an honest mistake, normally I wouldn’t have mentioned it. But then, she said with a laugh, “Please don’t put that in the paper.”