Social and Political Commentary

All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect opinions of others or the organization as a whole.

Lack of political-action muscle hurts Mount Hood golfers

... feasibilty study's golf proposals all but ignored by people attending Park Commission meeting.

by Joe Sullivan

On August 3, the Mount Hood Club House was packed with people who had come to hear the results of a feasibility study that the Park Commission had commissioned Beals and Thomas, a Southbridge MA consulting company to undertake.

Many of the attendees were abutters who the Commission had  notified of the meeting by mail. Others, which included leaders of local youth sports organizations had been advised by other means.

Previous to the August 3 meeting, the Commission had held two public meetings in June and July where Mr. Bob Weidnecht of Beals & Thomas outlined the concepts that had been developed. He also related the issues such as available space, environmental limitations, and costs that would affect the concepts.

These earlier meetings were to hear updates of a feasibility study whose objective was to fulfill the desire of the Commission to improve and expand recreational activities at Mount Hood. Previously the Commission had budgeted $20,000 to conduct the study and went through a bidding process in April to select the consultant company.

The Commissionís selection of the consultant and the presentation of itís findings were as open and fairly represented as any reasonable person could expect.

Paid-off bonds make money available for proposed projects

At the heart of the reason for the feasibility study was the fact that there would be money to pay for a project that the study was expected to develop. The money would come from golf course revenues that are currently being used to pay off bonds that financed extensive improvements to the golf course. These bonds will expire in the near future and the money currently being generated to pay for them now can be used for something else.

The mandated limitation to how the money can be spent is that it must be for a project at Mount Hood. Money produced at Mount Hood must be spent at Mount Hood. The Park operates on an Enterprise Fund with all revenues for the golf course going into it and all expenses coming out of it.

A question arises, when the amount of money going into the Enterprise Fund becomes greater than the money coming out of it. This situation is anticipated when the current bonds are paid off.

It is important to note that the money involved here is not tax revenue. The city cannot come in and take it to use for projects which would be otherwise funded by taxes. A currently serving alderman told me that if the State discovers that the city is paying for its obligations by substituting Enterprise Fund money for tax money the State will cut the amount of money that the State returns to the city each year.

The alderman is not named here since the information came from a conversation that took place a long time ago when neither of us was expecting it to be used in an opinion piece later on.

Commission problem: what to do with money when bonds are paid off?

The retiring bonds present the Park Commission with the problem of what to do with the golf course revenue that will be still ongoing after these bonds are paid off.. It could, God forbid, eliminate this revenue by reducing the price golfers pay to play, or by initiating a new project that would use the revenues to expand recreational facilities at Mount Hood.

The feasibility study is expected to provide an answer with a project that can be built and paid for at Mount Hood.

At the packed August 3 meeting, Beals and Thomasí Bob Weidnecht summarized the feasibility study findings using large colored charts to illustrate the five different configurations, any of which, could be selected for implementation at Mount Hood.   

Two of the configurations were devoted to golf and the other three alternatives to an athletic field. These are mutually exclusive configurations, there will only be money enough to fund one.

When opened for questions, the meeting almost immediately turned into an argument centering on the athletic field, not which one should be selected, but whether there should be an athletic field at all.

Meeting turns into pro/con argument about athletic fields at Mount Hood

People who could be identified as preservationists argued that Mount Hoodís environment could be irrevocably disturbed by an athletic field. They were opposed by people who said the athletic field was vital if sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey were to continue to expand. The increasing number of kids attracted to these sports needed a place where they could be played.

Both sides had strong arguments. Bob Boiselle, Ward 4 Alderman and President of the Board of Aldermen, did not take sides but asked questions that pointed out how big the athletic field project would be. Thousands of yards of tree and brush cutting and thousands of yards of fill would be necessary to accommodate an athletic field no matter which of the three configurations were selected. A large portion of what is now wooded area would be gone.

The athletic field proponents argued how significantly the issue affects young people. Pat Ruggerio, Athletic Director at Melrose High School, Rich Altenage and Mark Norton, who heads up the Melrose Youth Soccer and Melrose Youth Lacrosse programs, respectively, all made the same pointÖ space must be made to accommodate these expanding youth programs. Currently there are only three fields in Melrose where kids can play soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.

Consultant's golf-oriented proposals ignored at meeting

What was missing from this debate were any views from golfers. The two golf configurations were never discussed, even one of the athletic field proposals, which calls for a complete relocation of the 17th tee box, fairway and green, did not draw a golf oriented question.

There is an irony to a situation in which the group who will generate the money for whichever configuration is selected did not represent itself. The Park Commission has never made any bones about its preference for a multi-use athletic field. At any rate thatís what it implied when it stated in its Request for Services letter in February 2009 when it said, ĒSpecifically, the Park Commission seeks to obtain professional services to assist in assessing the technical and regulatory feasibility of constructing a multi-use (including synthetic turf)athletic facility and/or expanded golf related activities at Mount Hood Memorial Park.Ē

The golf related activities would be whatever the consultant came up with, but the athletic field was requested specifically. There doesnít seem to be any objection from golfers at the Hood to an athletic field. It wouldnít be unfair to say that this lack of response shows there is some sympathy for it. On the other hand it would be difficult to judge how many golfers know whatís being proposed.

Whatever the case, the Commission is doing nothing to conceal what itís doing and has made an effort to show that the development process is open to scrutiny.

Golfers, had they been there, might have been more sensitive to a situation that developed at the meeting. Although it was not on the agenda, Peter Mortimer, a conscientious Alderman from Ward 6, used the meeting to voice a concern about the traffic problems that were occurring on Slayton Road, the only vehicle access to the golf course. Specifically pointed out was the issue of speeding by golfers entering and exiting the golf course. There were residents attending the meeting who were backing his position. When a board member suggested that this issue was not appropriate to the agenda the Alderman insisted that it was a safety issue that could not wait.

It was acknowledged by the Commission that this was an issue but only Mr. Mortimer proposed a solution. He suggested that Slayton Road in some way should be considered part of the golf course and that a remedy be devised to deter the speeding. Mr. Mortimer suggested temporary wooden speed bumps that could be removed when golf season was over. Alderman Mortimer said that any safety improvements would be paid by the golf course.

Alderman proposes money to remedy Slayton Road traffic problem come from Mount Hood

The suggestion that Slayton Road would become part of the golf course was a rationale used to justify paying for any such modification out of Mount Hood golf-generated funds. which Alderman Mortimer described these as being in great abundance. Mr. Mortimer was fulfilling his responsibility to his Ward 6 constituents and it cannot be denied that he was being creative in his response.

What the absent golfers were not there to notice, or object to, was the development of a political rationale which states that Mount Hood has a great deal of money that should be made available to pay for city problems that need funding.

Mount Hood golfers should recall that this is not the first time that the golf course was joined to another entity as a way of satisfying a financial crisis. The crisis occurred in 2001 when the City Administration, including the Board of Aldermen, voted to place the entire cost of repairing the multi-million dollar damage to the Park and part of the golf course to the golfers. Slayton Road, not included.

However unjust, this arbitrary legislation is working. It canít be said the legislation has worked because the cost of the enormous repairs to the course and park is still being paid off by the golfers. What is important to note is that a financially successful Mount Hood is critically important to the city if the money borrowed for the repairs is to be paid off.

At the heart of the feasibility study is the issue of money.  Any proposal coming out of the study, athletic field or otherwise, that the Park Commission will seek to implement will require yet another bond and must be approved by the Board of Aldermen. No one should be surprised if the Aldermen have a few suggestions of their own as to how this money should be spent.

Bottom's about money, Mount Hood Golf Course money

It shouldnít be forgotten that the dumping process that crippled Mount Hood earlier both as a park and golf course was supposed to provide a ball field where little girls would be able to play soccer. People who questioned it were suggested to be selfish partisans. It didnít seem possible that a proposal so specific would have no plan to achieve it, but thatís what happened.

You can bet that when an athletic field proposal comes before the Board of Aldermen the environmental group and sports group who were present at the August 3 meeting will be on hand to express their views. The question is will there be anybody there who represent the golfers?

A political-action group needn't be a replica of talk-radio

A political action group does not have to be an organization whose members go around looking for a fight with someone who oppose their views. It is not about replicating talk radio.

Many times a political action group is a collection of people with like-minded views. The groupís value is that it is a way of demonstrating that there are citizens who will respond to a situation that will affect them. If a bad situation arises they are there to immediately respond.

Usually itís difficult in finding a reason to bring a group like this together. People are reluctant to organize just because there could be fight about an issue that has yet to affect them. On the other hand there are some good issues that would encourage a formation of a group like this at the golf course.

Where's the Champ?

Mount Hood has no Club Champion. A group would be needed to develop a program as to how the champion would be selected. A single tournament that would require only one round? Scores from a number of rounds over the season? Menís Champ? Womenís Champ? There are a bunch of things that would have to be decided. It would be an issue that would hold the group together because it would have to provide for a new Champion every year. It does not depend on a political issue to hold it together but will be able to immediately respond to one if it occurs.

There is also no Mount Hood Open, a tournament that would be open to all comers. Again it would require an organization to run it . The same group could manage both the Club Champion and Open. The important thing is to notice these events are the product of an organization which use them as a means of perpetuating itself.

Just as important is that any individuals who are considering plans that would use the golf course for their own interest will know that when their schemes become public that they will be subject to the scrutiny of a Mount Hood organization which will respond.

A significant benefit of a golf organization described above is that, in addition to the good that it does for the course, its members will stay current on issues that could affect them and be able to respond quickly.

Hey, it isnít only golf where success depends on keeping your eye on the ball.  

September 4, 2009            




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