In an effort to promote continued discussion about the future of the Lincoln city golf program, I am posting the rebuttal below, written by LMGA member Tom Nesbitt.
- Jerry Petersen, LMGA Board President
September 8, 2015
I write this rebuttal not to “call out” any elected official or any of their administrator(s) but to act in manner which insures accountability of public funds and resources and, in this instance, the golf enterprise fund and Highlands GC. It was a difficult decision for me to voice my concerns publicly with the governance of the Lincoln Municipal Golf Program. I believe in public service. As a retired Colonel of the Nebraska State Patrol, I know first-hand the difficulties, conflicts, and political pressures that can be placed on an agency, its administration and public resources. Lincoln’s golf enterprise fund and Highlands GC are just that, public funds and a community recreational resource, both governed by the Lincoln municipal code.
However, the public officials who’ve objected with my golf editorial opinion of August 26, 2015, must be held accountable for “staging a fiscal crisis” to justify the possibility of selling Highlands GC. And with their recent editorial opinion of September 6, 2015, I’ll “substantiate” my concerns by sharing a directive made by Lynn Johnson, director, Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, to the National Golf Foundation on July 19, 2013.
In August 2013, while serving as chairman of the budget committee for the Lincoln Municipal Golf Advisory Committee, I learned Lynn Johnson and his golf manager, Dale Hardy, received an advanced copy of the Lincoln golf sustainability study on July 12, 2013, and they offered critical suggestion(s) and amendment(s) to the NGF study without the knowledge of, nor providing opportunities for members of the LMGAC to review and comment. I confronted director Johnson with this information and, as result, I received a signed copy of his file memo dated August 25, 2013, and the primary directive made to the National Golf Foundation is: “request that economic analyses be completed of discontinued operation of Highlands Golf Course and of Mahoney Golf Course…” Since, director Johnson is on record by citing Mahoney Golf Course can’t be sold as it’s designated as city parkland, it’s clear his directive to the NGF is solely for an analysis of the economic impact of selling Highlands GC. This directive is counter to the recommendation of the NGF where they cite: “Highlands is the premier facility in the City of Lincoln golf system in terms of quality…it’s a destination golf course.” Why would the mayor and his parks director voluntarily sell the city’s premier golf asset?
Fast forward two years, here we are, the mayor proposes “the possibility of selling Highlands GC to avoid a future in which tax-payers subsidize the city golf program.” A classic strategy of divide and conquer, i.e., Lincoln tax payers vs. Lincoln golf patrons – a rather remarkable political tactic in an attempt to gain public favor to sell Highlands GC. Why would Lincoln’s mayor purposefully place and split its residents against each other? Is this true leadership?
I and my fellow Lincoln golf patrons wish to underscore a core value of honoring a public trust that must also be shared with, and held by our elected officials and their administrator(s). Lincoln golf patrons paid 100% of the $7.5 million debt service for Highlands GC – without any tax dollar support. U.S. court case law and opinions have consistently held local governments accountable for breach of the “public trust doctrine”, i.e., alienation and conversion of public parklands and park facilities – which includes municipal golf courses. Lincoln’s elected officials should give careful consideration to honor golf patrons’ financial investment – a public trust -- which not only built Highlands GC, a public park and recreational asset, but to operate and maintain it for 20 years.
Tom Nesbitt, Lincoln