At a golf committee meeting Tuesday night, council members all agreed that the current Golf Commission has their support to operate the golf course, create its organizational structure and make decisions in regards to hiring and firing of staff members, at least until the end of the year. According to commission members present at the meeting, the show of support was needed because conflicting opinions on the matter were making it difficult to get anything done at the course. However, the legal foundation of the commission’s authority was found to be shaky, prompting discussion about how the course should be run in the future.
Previously, the commission had submitted a number of questions to Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis in regards to what its proper authority was in regards to operating the course. DeCusatis answered the questions at the meeting. He said that the commission had broad authority under section 28 of the city code to operate and maintain the golf course. But the local law that amended the charter in 1984 to allow for the commission to oversee the course instead of the Recreation Department, was never approved by public referendum. Therefore, in his opinion, if anyone were to challenge the issue in court, it was likely the commission would be invalidated.
“On it’s face, on the books, it looks like you have a ton of authority. But if somebody wants to challenge it, that authority may evaporate. If it evaporates…it falls down on the Recreation [department]…it would be a meaningless sort of litigation. So it’s not clear that anyone would ever challenge it,” said DeCusatis.
He went on to say, “So you have apparent authority…and if you do things and people follow it, that’s 99% of what actual authority is.”
“How do we get it clearly defined? What has to be done so that it says that the Golf Commission has the authority to maintain and operate the golf course?” asked Golf Commission member Bob Karutis.
“A properly enacted charter amendment,” replied DeCusatis.
“What’s the process to get a properly enacted charter amendment?” asked Karutis.
“The simplest and most expedient [way] would to have the existing charter review commission take it up and put it on the ballot this November,” said DeCusatis.
Commission Chairwoman Michele Russo and members Pam Ritter and Karutis all expressed frustration at the lack of organization at the course.
“None of us feel like we have any authority…if we do something it’s going to be second guessed,” said Ritter.
She said when the commission came up with promotional specials earlier in the year, “some of us heard individual comments from people at the course that we couldn’t do that, that the council’s in charge of everything…that we can’t spend money…it’s crazy what’s going on up there…We feel very disillusioned, powerless”.
All three members of the commission suggested that a new structure be put in place soon, so that there was one person with clear authority in charge of the entire course. Commission members, council members, and the corporation counsel discussed a wide variety of different ideas, including hiring a golf course manager, privatizing the course, or leasing it out to a non profit operator.
While expressing positive support for the job the commission was doing, Mayor Thane agreed a change was needed. “It’s odd to have five volunteers run a city department…the commission should be advisory. A city department should be run by the city.”
Commission members said one of the biggest problems related to the lack of organization was the condition of the course. Karutis said that damage sustained to the course by the severe winter weather was still not fixed, and there continued to be maintenance issues. Ritter said she wanted to bring in an outside contractor to clean up the course.
At the insistence of Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler, the council went into executive session for a brief time to discuss the performance of an unnamed employee involved with the course.
Upon returning to the regular session, Alderman Ed Russo asked for a poll of the council members to get a consensus. All members agreed to support the commission’s authority through the end of the year.