Social and Political Commentary

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Does city have more secret plans for unspent money in Mount Hood Reserve Fund?

... report is that city won't use money in Reserve Fund to pay upcoming shortages
in payments for the athletic field complex bond costs

by Joe Sullivan



A lady of grace. Mount Hood beginner admires her elegant
chip shot to the practice green.


At its May meeting the Park Commission was asked if excess revenues
from Mount Hood's golf operation had been transferred from the city's free cash
account to the Mount Hood Reserve Fund. The Reserve Fund is the total of Mount Hood
excess revenues that have accumulated through 2009 less expenditures for capital
improvements.

Capital improvements are projects like a renovation of the Mount Hood Snack Bar
and Kitchen, an improvement which was completed when the course opened this
year. Until 2011 money from the Reserve Fund was limited to projects like this;
that is, to a project at Mount Hood.

This limitation was taken away when the Board of Aldermen acted on the mayor's
request to do so and voted to set aside the provision of a Massachusetts General
Law. This was referred to as the "special legislation" the city submitted to the
State Legislature for its approval. After the approval the city was free to take
money earned at Mount Hood and spend it on other sports-related projects.

The  most prominent of these projects up to now has been the creation of the
athletic field complex at the High School field and the yet-to-be-completed
running track at Pine Banks which will be shared with Malden.

Twenty-five year bonds for $5.2 million have been approved by the Board of
Aldermen to cover the costs of these two projects. It is important to note that
this money is to come from future revenues of the golf course and not from what
has been accumulated in the Revenue Fund.

Reserve Fund not updated yet

In January 2011 the Aldermen's Public Service Committee voted to approve the
transfer of $245,814 from the city's free cash account to the Mount Hood Reserve
Fund, bringing its total to $810,179. There has been no update of the Reserve
Fund in 2012.

The city holds excess revenues produced at Mount Hood in its free cash account
until they are transferred to the Reserve Fund. A significant result of this
transfer is that it makes public the total of the Reserve Fund.

Since the Reserve Fund is a large amount and, in the past, has increased each
year, a reasonable question is what is the total of the fund now and what does
the city plan to do with this money?

How is a new plan initiated that involves Mount Hood?

The Park Commission was asked at its May meeting how a new plan requiring Park
Commission participation would be initiated if it were proposed? The answer was
that, if it were the mayor' plan, his proposal would be sent to the Park
Commission for ratification and then be sent to the Board of Aldermen for
approval of the plan and its expenditures.

If the Park Commission initiated the plan, it would be submitted to the mayor
who, if he approved, would send it back to the Commissioners who would deal with
any of the mayor's suggestions and then submit the plan to the Aldermen for
approval and funding.

This process didn't take place when the athletic field complex was being
developed. City records show that the process involved manipulation,
misrepresentation and secrecy.  It resulted in a slam-dunk approval when the
athletic field plan was announced to the public by the mayor in the morning and
the Board of Aldermen approved it only hours later.

No one in the public venue ever had the opportunity to question any part of it.
Nobody had ever even heard about a plan to build the new fields and fund it with
Mount Hood money. This was something that both the mayor and Aldermen were aware
of when the vote took place. Both parties knew that they were participating in a
legislative process in which the public would have no opportunity to question
what was being done.

Members of the Mount Hood golf community were designated to pay for the entire
athletic fields project. By shutting out the golf community from the approval
process, the city didn't have to deal with their questions until after the
Aldermen had voted.

Public participation sidestepped

As slick and evasive as this process was, it had some consequences. The members
of the golf community have the right to question legislation that directly
effects them. What the city was taking from them was not just their money but
also their rights.

This was the action of a city government that fears its own citizens.      

A reasonable question is how did such a thing happen? The reason to ask the
question now is because the city may again employ this same venal process to
spend the large amount of money that should now be in the Reserve Fund.

The approval history of the athletic field complex city records shows that,
although the new complex involved both an issue of parks and Mount Hood money,
the Park Commission was never involved in either the planning or approvals prior
to the Alderman's vote on October 4.

The new athletic field complex required a professionally prepared plan that
would show what was to be built and how much it would cost. A plan like this is
developed by a consultant. The plan itself is called a feasibility study.
Funding the consultant must be approved by the Board of Aldermen. It involves an
explanation of what the consultant is being asked to do.

Park Commission prime responsibility shifted to Public Works Committee.


To find out where the proposal for an athletic field feasibility study was
initiated, it would be necessary to go, not to a  Park Commission meeting, but
to an Aldermen'S Public Works Committee meeting that took place on September 23,
2010. The meeting chaired by Alderman Forbes was attended by committee members
Infurna, Boiselle, and Seaboyer. Alderman Mortimer, not a committee member, also
attended.

The Committee was there to hear a proposal by Deputy Chief Engineer John Scenna
and City Planner Denise Gaffey that Gale Associates, a consultant, be appointed
to develop a feasibility study to determine if synthetic turf would be an option
for the High School football and baseball fields. It required an appropriation
of $51,500. It was approved by the Aldermen present and charged to the Mount
Hood Stabilization and Trust(Reserve )Fund. This fund was not eligible to be
charged since Gale Associates work did not involve Mount Hood.

Consultant at work long before required approvals

At a Park Commission meeting two weeks later attended by members of the mayor's
staff, including Scenna and Gaffey, it came out that Gale Associates had been
retained August 1. If Scenna and Gaffey didn't have approval to hire them before
September 23, what had Gale been doing in the meantime?

The next step in the process for Gale's appointment was approval by the full
Board of Aldermen which took place in a special meeting one week later on
September 30. The Aldermen approved the $51,500 for Gale.

Alderman Conn said for the benefit of the people who were watching the meeting
that what was being approved was a study that involved the replacement of the
football field surface and other projects at the  high school. Four days before
the mayor's announcement the project was still being represented as a Public
Works project, amounting to expensive repairs of the High School ball fields.

The Alderman wasted little time discussing the feasibility study itself. The
meeting was over in ten minutes.

Mayor's announcement required impossible time line

Four days later the mayor in his press conference presented the plan for the new
athletic field complex. Somehow, within four days, the feasibility plan for
artificial turf at the high school fields had turned into a full-blown plan for
the creation of a state-of-the art athletic field complex.

Additionally, this extensive plan called for not only a renovation of the fields
but the demolition and replacement of the spectator stands, the elimination of
the running track, new lighting, and other improvements costing $4.2 million.
This plan was supposed to have been created between September 30 and October 4.
This was an impossibility and to imply that it had been is a clear
misrepresentation.

Common sense dictates that this plan had been created long before that. What is
troubling is what the Public Works Committee knew ten days earlier on September
30 when it said the $51,500 was an appropriation for high school ball field
repairs. If the plan for the athletic field complex had already been completed,
then either no one had told that to the meeting attendees or somebody at the
meeting knew that the feasibility study had been completed. Presenting it to the
Aldermen as a proposal to repair ball fields was a misrepresentation.

The impossibility of creating such an extensive plan in four days is a testimony
to the complete lack of credibility of the process.

Along with the plan for the athletic field complex was the plan for the running
track at Pine Banks. Approval for that feasibility study did follow a process
that went from the mayor to the Park Commission that initiated the approval
process in July of 2010.

The need for a new running track was because the new athletic field complex plan
called for the elimination of the running track at the High School field. If the  
complex's feasibility study was not complete until October, how could anyone
know in July that the plan would call for the elimination of the running track?

This suggests that the athletic field complex study had been completed as far
back as July.

Park Commission approval needed to get requested legislation from
State


Although both the construction of the athletic field complex and running track
and the request to ask for state approval to take Mount Hood money were passed
by the Aldermen on October 4, more manipulating would be needed before the
request could be submitted to the State House.

What had been approved by the Board on October 4 still required a vetting
procedure by the Aldermen's Appropriation Committee before it could be submitted
to the State House. This meeting was held on October 7. A significant problem
for the Committee was that in the Aldermen's request to the State House the
phrase "with the approval of its Park Commission" had been included.

Up until the mayor's October 4 announcement the Park Commission had not been
involved with the approval process, yet here was a letter from the Aldermen
saying the Commission was central to the process. This was remedied when a Park
Commission meeting was called to take place after the Aldermen's October 4
meeting. The Park Commission meeting was held on October 7 the exact same day as
the Aldermen's Committee meeting on October 7.

The meeting was attended by the Mayor's staff including CFO Dello Russo, City
Engineer Beshara, Deputy City Engineer Scenna, City Solicitor Van Campen and
City Planner Gaffney. Scenna and Gaffney had earlier appeared at the Aldermen's
Public Works Committee and were key in getting approval for what was then
represented as a feasibility study for repairs to the high school fields.

The mayor's staff was the last order of business, and it did not make its
presentation until almost 10 o'clock. Only one member of the public was still
present.

There were two issues to be addressed. CFO Dello Russo was looking to remedy the
erroneous charge to the Stabilization Fund made by the Aldermen to pay for the
feasibility study. City Planner Gaffey was there to present the plan for the
athletic field complex which the Aldermen had already approved at their October
4 meeting. The Commission was being asked to provide an after-the-fact approval.

It was during the discussion about the erroneous charge that the information
emerged that Gale Associates, creator of the feasibility study, had been on
board since August 1. The fact that August 1 was two months prior to the
Aldermen's approval to appoint them was not discussed.

The problem was resolved when the $51,500 charge for the feasibility study when
the Park Commission approved a charge for this amount to the Mount Hood Pilot
account.

Park Commission approval came after not before approval by Aldermen


After this was resolved City Planner Gaffey presented the athletic field complex
plan. The Commissioners approved the plan with the exception of Chairman
Interbartolo who voted no.

When the Aldermen's Appropriation Committee adjourned two days later, it would
be considering legislation that now had something that the full Board did not
have three days earlier. It had the approval of the plan by the Park Commission.
This approval should have come first in the process, not last. But allowing the
Commission to discuss the problem first would have jeopardized the secrecy that
had been part of every step of the process. The Committee approved the
submission of the petition to the State House to allow the city to take Mount
Hood money.

City has yet to demonstrate that Mount Hood can pay

What has never been explained is why the city government has concluded that the
golf course can in fact produce the excess revenue necessary to pay for the
athletic field complex and running track. At best this has been a presumption.

The golf community has plenty to worry about from a government that operates so
secretly in order to treat their members so arbitrarily. The concern now is that
when the excess revenue is not adequate to cover the athletic field bond
payments that the city will increase the price to play golf to make up the
shortfall.

A policy that says excess revenue will pay for the bonds is significantly
different from a policy that says the golfers will pay for the bonds no matter
how much their cost. If the latter is true, then an excess is never needed.

When CFO Dello Russo was asked at the Aldermen's Appropriation Committee about
Mount Hood's capability of paying for the athletic field bonds, he said that the
debt service on the note would be approximately $300,000 per year.

Bond costs much higher than estimates  

The Mount Hood Operating Budget submitted by the Treasurer's office to the Park
Commission for 2013 showed the bond cost that would be paid for by the course
that year. The budget sheet also contained the bond costs for future years. The
ongoing bond costs will be $400,000 per year not $300,000. The course will be
expected to also pay the remaining costs of the Big Dig damage bond. This will
bring total bond payments the course must pay to $492,000 in 2015.

Chairman Interbartolo said at the Park Commission's May meeting that the city is
not committed to taking money from the Reserve Fund to satisfy any shortages
resulting from inadequate golf course excess revenues. A question then is where
will the money come from to satisfy the shortage? Will the golf community be
looking forward to higher greens fees to pay for the athletic field bonds?
Another question is how much money is in the Mount Hood Reserve Fund and what
does the city plan to do with it?

Whatever is coming will it be the result of yet another secret plan enacted by a
secretive city government?


Joe Sullivan is a long time member of the Mount Hood golfing community.
      

July 6, 2012


        
   

             

 


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