OCEAN CITY – Mayor Rick Meehan stood strong this week while accusations were made that the town is wasting taxpayers money in issuing golf passes to the town-owned Eagle’s Landing.
In late August, Councilman Brent Ashley requested City Manager David Recor examine the records of town employees and guest play at the municipal golf course, Eagle’s Landing, including the use of Gold and Silver passes.
This week Ashley asked for a discussion to be scheduled over the matter asserting that there have been a large number of golf passes distributed that haven’t been accounted for over the years.
A gold card allows for a free game of golf and golf cart, which Ashley values at about $100. He referred to a list supplied by Recor of the amount of gold cards distributed and used in the past three years that shows cards have been issued to department heads, managers, Mayor and Council members and even non-employees.
“Several council members have taken 40 cards at a time with a value of $8,000 in taxpayer money,” Ashley said. “There is also no accountability with these cards. The person that is given the card has full control over who uses it.”
According to Ashley, in 2010, 360 cards worth $36,000 were issued. In 2011, 382 cards were issued worth $38,200. So far, out of those cards issued, 210 cards worth $21,000 have been used and 172 cards worth $17,200 remain outstanding and unaccounted for.
“Was I surprised at this information?” Ashley asked. “No, I wasn’t, this is just another example … like the city’s credit card program of the loosey-goosey accountability of taxpayers money that has come to light. I have commented before about the country club attitude that has permeated city spending. Here we have an example, in many cases, of pure perks given out at taxpayer’s expense.”
At this point, Ashley asked who has the authority to issue the passes.
“It seems to me that if anyone should play free, it should be the taxpayers because they’re paying for it,” he said.
Meehan took the opportunity to clarify Ashley’s concerns.
Meehan explained that when Eagle’s Landing was established about 20 years ago the gold and silver golf pass program was brought to the council by the Recreation and Parks director to promote and establish the golf course at Eagle’s Landing.
At that time, there were only a couple of other golf courses in the area and the town was looking to jump start tourism in the golf industry. The council approved the issuance of golf passes to be used to advertise and promote the golf course.
When Meehan became mayor in 2006, he began keeping record of golf passes issued, which was done through the mayor’s office, the city manager’s office, Recreation and Parks and Eagle’s Landing.
“You wouldn’t believe how many requests we get for golf passes to support different charities, and it is mostly to support charitable golf tournaments,” he said.
Meehan said in January, when he was acting city manager, he noticed that the issuance of golf passes were being duplicated through the different offices and departments. He took the opportunity during budget discussions to change the process to make it more efficient and accountable.
“What I did was consolidate that, … so that all of the requests would come through the mayor’s office that way we could keep an accurate accounting of where they all went and we wouldn’t have a duplication of them being given out,” the mayor said.
The mayor also decided to eliminate the gold card but kept the silver card, now known as the grey card. He explained that the gold card allowed the user to play at any time but the grey card limits play time from being done during peak times.
“So it will not only continue to bring people to the golf course but it will bring them there during off times when we are trying to generate additional business,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas became frustrated over the change accusing the mayor of making a policy change without coming to the council first.
“We are not saying charities should not do this, we are not saying not to give them out, we are saying be accountable when you do so we the council and the public who is accountable to this money knows exactly who is getting them. That’s it,” Pillas added.
A conflict also arose over the discrepancies in the list that had been provided to Ashley and the record of passes issued through the mayor’s office.
“This is how we kept track of them … I think you will see clearly that they are not just given out haphazardly,” Meehan said.
Ashley’s list shows the date, the name of the city affiliate who was issued the card and how many, and the date and individual name of who used the pass.
The mayor’s record shows the date, the number of passes and to what organization or charity the passes were issued to.
Meehan explained Ashley’s list may give off the wrong impression because of the individual names listed but when in reality those are the names of those who won the passes from the organization or charity.
“It is not like there are smoking guns everywhere,” the mayor said. “You can have all the information you want.”
Council President Jim Hall concluded the discussion saying that the issue will be scheduled for a work session so that the council can finalize a policy regarding the issuance of golf passes at Eagles Landing.