Social and Political Commentary

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The Park Commission's stand-up guy steps down

... the resignation of Chairman Interbartolo's leaves vacuum

by Joe Sullivan

Michael Interbartolo, former Park Commission Chairman

The January 14 Park Commission meeting was one of a routine nature. Reports updated, questions
about the disposal of a large tree that had fallen on the third fairway, what time the snack
bar will stop serving, and some other items that Chairman Interbartolo crisply disposed of.

Park Commission meetings can last well into the night, but this looked like it would be an
early evening. Not included on the meeting agenda was what Chairman Interbartolo did to end the
meeting. He began to read a letter addressed to Mayor Dolan. After the first sentence it was
obvious that it was a letter of resignation, but none of the people attending the meeting
knew whose. Surprise began to emerge when the Chairman began to show emotion, stopping several
times to control himself before he finished reading.

The resignation he was reading was his own. The meeting attendees were stunned by this totally
unexpected news.

Expressions of thanks and admiration were expressed by members of the group who had listened to
the surprising news. After the former chairman had departed, the same people were discussing
the resignation. No one knew if there was some issue that had prompted his departure.

Mayor unaware of intention

In a later discussion, Park Superintendent Joan Berry said that when she called the mayor the
next morning to discuss what happened. He expressed surprise. He had no idea that the chairman
had intended to resign. He, too, was completely surprised.

“It was time.” The former chairman said in telephone conversation two days after his
resignation. He cited the signing of the golf course management company to another five year
contract to manage the Mount Hood golf course was a good time for his departure.

This bidding process had taken a longer than expected. Starting in July the back and forth
bidding had dragged on for the entire summer. It wasn’t until late December that the Board of
Aldermen approved the contract with the incumbent, Golf Course Management Company.

Mike Intebartolo has been a member of the Park Commission since 2002. He is someone who makes
his views plain. Far from bombastic, his tone is very measured in his responses. Sometimes this
matter-of-fact style can cause trouble.

The apology flap

At an August 2012 meeting at the Mount Hood Clubhouse the Park Commissioners were explaining
the reasons for instituting a dog ban at Mount Hood. Many of the people attending were furious
at the ban. The attending crowd was almost hostile with remarks, including name calling, being
loudly expressed.

In an exchange with Myron Dittmer the chairman was accused of using intemperate language with
Dittmer and cutting him off. Another attendee, Eric McDevitt, demanded that Interbartolo
apologize. “Not gonna happen.” was the chairman’s caustic response.

Melrose Patch, the online news publication, picked up on the incident. In its August 14 issue
the lead story was, “Should Chairman Interbartolo Apologize?”  Thirty seven people sent in
comments regarding the chairman’s conduct. The chairman’s style can evoke a response.

Mike Interbartolo, an architect who runs his own company, became a member of the Park
Commission in 2002. That’s when the city was in a terrible jam caused by the Big Dig dumping
calamity at the Mount Hood Park and golf course. An area prepared to accept the Big Dig fill
was not adequate to accommodate the amount of fill that the city had contracted to take.
Obliged to fulfill the terms of the contract the city dumped the remaining fill on the golf

The resulting damage would cost $1.7 million. This was not only to fix the golf course but to
correct the environmental damage the dumping had caused. The $1.7 million would be in addition
to the city’s $1 million share of the $2 million upgrade that had recently been made to the
golf course.

The Board of Aldermen voted that the golf course community would be responsible for fixing the
damage. The city took out a 20-year bond to be paid in its entirety by the Mount Hood golfers.

The Commissioner's rescue mission

Interbartolo was brought in to remedy the situation. There were two problems. First was to
repair the damage. Second was to find a way to operate the golf course so that it would produce
enough money to pay for the bonds needed to pay for the fixing. These bond payments would
exceed $100,000 per year.

The results were very successful. The repairs and the hiring of a professional golf management
company provided an outstanding municipal golf course. The improved course would  justify its
significantly increased green fees and deliver revenue adequate to cover both the costs of
operating the course and the bond payments.

There were some problems encountered. One of the companies after losing out in the bidding for
the course manager contract sued the city. It resulted in an out-of-court settlement of
$320,000 an amount that would be paid from golf revenues.

Whatever the problems, Interbartolo’s intervention had bailed out the city from the
consequences of this self-induced dumping calamity. The well-run course has been a roaring
success. It routinely achieves annual revenues of $2 million. These revenues exceed the annual
cost of running the course by over $400,000.

It was what to do with these excess revenues that would bring Interbartolo into conflict with
the city administration. Someone in the city had proposed that all the excess money from the
Mount Hood golf course be spent on a new athletic field complex. A plan to do this had been
proposed by the mayor and approved by the Aldermen in a single day.

An open disagreement with the mayor

A group from the mayor’s office came to the Park Commission meeting three days after the
Aldermen had approved the athletic field complex plan. They were there to get the Commissioners'
approval to fund a feasibility study. The study was to develop a plan for a new athletic field
complex at the High School field.

Somehow the plan had been developed before the Commissioners’ had the opportunity to approve
the feasibility study that was supposed to develop it. This plan, however, had not only been
developed, but had been approved by the Aldermen only five days earlier.

How could a plan for a sports complex be created without a feasibility study? How could the
initiating of a feasibility study take place if the Commissioners didn’t approve its funding?
What was the city hall group asking the Commissioners to do?

Money, the mayor’s group explained, had already approved for this feasibility study both on
September 23 by the Aldermen who make up the Public Works Committee. It was approved then again
on September 30 by the full Board.

Ostensibly the Board had charged the study to the wrong account. The mayor’s group was asking
the Commission to approve the funding of the feasibility study so that it could be charged to
the correct account.

What did not come up was that the study the Public Works Committee and Aldermen approved in
September was not a feasibility study for the new athletic field complex but a study for
resurfacing both the football field and baseball field.

When the Park Commission approved funding of the feasibility study for the athletic field
complex, was it not only correcting a book keeping entry but also replacing the bogus
feasibility study that the Aldermen had passed on September 30?

Then-Chairman Interbartolo questioned the timing of the approval requests and not only voted no
to a motion to approve them but requested that he be shown to be on record that he opposed the
motion which passed 4-1.

His objection did not stop there. He wrote an open letter to Mayor Dolan that appeared in the
Melrose Free Press objecting to the golf course funding the cost of the athletic field complex.

Exposing a meaningless excess revenue limitation

It would not be his only conflict over funding for the athletic field complex. In March 2011
Interbartolo was cited in a letter from the mayor for removing $62,349 from the 2012 budget
from the Mount Hood Park and Golf Course Enterprise Fund Budget. This money was to pay for a
bond associated with the new athletic field complex.

The so-called Special Legislation that passed earlier by the city and approved by the state
legislature said only money from the course's excess revenue could be taken by the city. After
all the planned golf expenses were included in the 2012 budget the remaining excess was not big
enough to cover a $62,349 bond payment.

What the mayor was really calling for was to reduce golf course expenses in order to create an
excess big enough to pay for an athletic field bond. At their next meeting that included
staffers from the mayor's administration, the Commissioners cut a projected golf course expense
to make an excess big enough to cover a $62,349 payment..  

It would appear that Interbartolo had lost a fight over the allocation of money. In reality he
had gained a much bigger, although unrecognized, victory. His challenge had demonstrated that
taking Mount Hood money would be limited to the course's excess revenues was nonsense and that
paying for the athletic field was becoming an expense of running the golf course.

Goodbye to a Chairman with the courage to disagree

The city will miss the plain talking Commissioner who has meant so much to establish Mount
Hood as a great little golf course. Although his tenure has been marked by some fiery,
outspoken exchanges he is leaving quietly.

In the short telephone conversation when asked if he had any views on the golf course funding
of the athletic field complex, he said that he hoped that the golf course would be able to
provide enough money to pay for the bonds. His tone indicated an apprehension more than it did
a hope.

He did have a complaint. He said that when he was playing golf it was not unusual to be
approached by players who would voice a complaint. He wasn’t objecting to that. His complaint
was that these people never came forward at a Park Commission meeting to say the same thing.

With the course revenues now open to the perils of our city’s who-gets-what politics the golf
community had better develop some complainers.

(Joe Sullivan is a member of the Mount Hood golf community.)

February 1, 2013






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