OCEAN CITY – Councilwoman Margaret Pillas took a revised copy of the town’s policy regarding complimentary/reduced golf at Eagle’s Landing by the horns this week saying if it was going to get done it needed to get done right.
In late August, Councilman Brent Ashley requested City Manager David Recor research the records of town employee and guest play at the town’s golf course, Eagle’s Landing, including the use of Gold and Silver passes and earlier this month asked for a discussion to be scheduled.
A gold card allows for a free game of golf and golf cart, which Ashley values at least $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, elected officials and even non-employees.
According to Ashley, in 2010, 360 gold cards were issued and in 2011, 382 cards were issued. So far out of those cards issued 210 cards have been used and 172 cards worth $17,200 remain outstanding.
“This is just another example … like the city’s credit card program of the loosey-goosey accountability of taxpayer’s money that has come to light,” Ashley said at that time. “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.”
Mayor Rick Meehan took a stance against the allegation and explained that when he became mayor in 2006 he began keeping record of golf passes issued. In January, while Meehan was in position of acting city manager, he noticed that the issuance of golf passes was being duplicated through the different offices and changed it so all requests had to be made through the Mayor’s Office.
The mayor also eliminated the gold card but kept the silver pass because the gold card allowed the user to play at any time but the silver pass excludes play during peak times.
The discussion returned Tuesday with a fresh complimentary/reduced rate golf policy to put all confusion aside.
According to the policy, eligibility for complimentary/reduced rate golf at Eagle’s Landing on a limited basis comes in three ways.
First, golf course employees are eligible for complimentary golf subject to specific restrictions and approval by the Eagle’s Landing golf professional.
Second, credentialed PGA Golf professionals, credentialed golf course superintendents, golf course managers and other related industry professionals are eligible for complimentary golf subject to approval by the Eagle’s Landing professional.
Third, regional nonprofit and other charitable organizations may request a silver pass donation from the mayor’s office, entitling the recipient to a round of golf, at certain times, for payment of cart fee only.
Silver passes will expire one year from the date of issuance and the mayor’s office shall maintain a numerical record of each pass issued including the name of the nonprofit or charitable organization and the expiration date of pass issued.
Pillas found numerous problems with the policy as proposed, starting with it didn’t have enough details for each section. For example, the policy outlines three ways to receive complimentary/reduced rate golf but it was brought to the council’s attention that the Stephen Decatur High School’s golf team also has access to Eagle’s Landing and that item is not included.
Pillas added she would be more comfortable having the golf pass requests come through the city manager’s office and Councilman Brent Ashley agreed.
“It is an elected position, the mayor’s office, and the real accountability for financial budgets is in the city manager’s office,” she said.
Next Pillas pointed out here are still outstanding gold cards.
“Can’t we contact the person it has been issued to and return the unused … and/or for accountability have a letter from whoever it was issued to, who is mostly the council, the mayor, and Tom Shuster’s office [Recreation and Parks director] if they issued them to who they were issued,” she said.
Councilman Doug Cymek responded that the cards distributed were given in good faith.
“We should not be recalling any issued,” he said. “If council members have them in their possession and they want to return them, that is their prerogative.”
Pillas’s final concern regarded the course employees being eligible for complimentary golf when all town employees are not.
“The general employees are forming a union and they will expect the same treatment as other employees in the town, and I don’t understand why we’re giving golf rights to the people that work on the golf course,” she said.
Pillas added that resident, or taxpayers, should also be considered in receiving a reduced rate to play at Eagle’s landing.
Councilman Joe Hall set a motion to accept the policy as proposed with the following changes; quarterly audits, clarifications in criteria to receive complimentary/reduced rate, and a price structure for town employees to be brought to the council in a future work session. The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.