Monday, December 21, 2009

DMN Tees Off on Sherrill Park

Ian McCann of The Dallas Morning News says Richardson's Sherrill Park Golf Course's "records raise alcohol, conflict-of-interest questions." After the jump, a look into whether there's a story here.

First, the alcohol. The story says the private club serving the drinks has been cited 18 times for violating state rules. The example cited is from the 2003 Wildflower Festival, where the golf club nonprofit stepped in when the Elks Club backed out. One violation was serving alcohol to a customer without him being asked to join the club (if you don't know about Texas' history of patchwork quilt crazy drinking laws, be grateful). Another was the city buying the beer, keeping the revenue but turning the leftover beer over to the nonprofit. It sounds like the city got in over their heads here. Not corruption as much as ignorance of alcohol regulations and/or careless oversight of the concession operations.

Second, the management structure of the organizations. There's the city-owned golf course. There's the nonprofit created to secure a private club license. There's the company created by golf pro Ronny Glanton to run the city-owned course. Then there are the contracts between the various entities to sell alcohol at the city sponsored Wildflower Festivals. With top city officials serving as directors of the nonprofit tied to the club, it all gets very complicated and confusing. According to Ian McCann, City manager Bill Keffler

"said any perceived conflict no longer exists. [Michael] Wanchick is no longer employed by the city, and [Pete] Smith and [David] Morgan left the board in July after critics complained. ... Keffler said it never occurred to him that forming the nonprofit with Glanton could create a conflict. And, he said, the nonprofit serves no oversight or management role."

Again, it sounds like the city was in over their heads trying to set up legal entities that were independent but still had city oversight (a tricky challenge). Again, not a case of corruption, but inexperience and perhaps carelessness. Given that one of the city officials who served as an original director of the Sherrill Park Municipal Golf Course Inc. was City Attorney Pete Smith, I'd say the city might want to question the legal advice he gave the city in 1999 when the nonprofit was setup and in 2003 and perhaps 2004 when the Wildflower contracts were signed and perhaps as late as this year when Smith stepped down as a director of the nonprofit.

Is all this just water over the dam? Have the issues all been addressed? The city says yes. The malcontents will never believe that. The city has its work cut out keeping the public's trust. Transparency in government was the biggest issue in last May's council election. It's still the biggest issue today. Complete transparency is the only way to put these historical mistakes and embarrassments behind us so we can focus on more important issues facing Richardson today.

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