Golf Course Management Contract Messed up by City Hall [OPINION]
The Sioux Falls City Council on Tuesday decided not to approve the selection of Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Neb., to manage the city’s three public golf courses.
It was the culmination of several weeks of speculation and suggestion since the announcement was released in October, that the city would end its 23-year relationship with Dakota Golf Management.
This is the most botched process by the city of Sioux Falls in recent memory. First off, the city has every right to examine the contract, however long the relationship, to ask the hard questions and even go out for a new contract. That is an absolutely appropriate step to ensure the best use of taxpayer money and property.
And the fact that Dakota Golf didn’t win is not, in and of itself, the issue that should draw greater examination. The company, run by Tom Jansa, is local with long ties to the community. Ending that contract and giving it to an out-of-the-area company was going to get pushback no matter what. But sometimes that’s the best thing to do.
Landscape Unlimited by all measure is fine outfit. They haven’t done anything wrong.
But for reasons that don't seem immediately apparent, the administration of Mayor Mike Huether has decided to screw up the process about as much as they can.
Consider a few key points:
- Why this year? Everybody knew that the city courses were coming off a long stretch of construction and remodel, particularly a major reworking of Elmwood because of demands for space around the Sioux Falls Regional Airport. That meant play and revenue were obviously suppressed. That had nothing to do with Dakota Golf, who oversaw the renovation and suffered the consequences. So it makes little sense – in fact, it seems deliberately punitive – to make this push now.
- The secrecy of the RFP process, which as a separate point should be examined for reform, created an atmosphere of suspicion that was further inflamed by the compression of the time table. As Councilor Greg Neitzert noted, they were given a 100-page contract on Friday night and told to approve it on Tuesday. That’s absurd. But perhaps worse than that, Neitzert says he asked to see the winning proposal but was told he couldn’t have access to until it was approved. There is a paternalistic trait built in the DNA of this administration that haunts nearly every transaction.
- Even after the choice of Landscapes Unlimited was made, the city continued to screw up the process, specifically the potential purchase of equipment that goes with a golf course, such as carts and mowers and merchandise. Dakota Golf had to purchase or lease all of that. If Landscapes Unlimited wanted to work out a deal to transfer the gear, or human assets such as staff, why weren’t they working with Jansa at Dakota Golf? Why is the city even involved? Why are we as taxpayers all of sudden in the business of purchasing equipment? And if Jansa rejects their offer and sells it for more on the open market, what do we do then? Buy all new?
The secrecy and the strange nature of some of the decisions have twisted up what was already going to be a strained transfer. That led the City Council, all eight of them, to agree not to approve the contract, to find out if they can simply extend the existing contract another year, and the political theater of a special meeting on Tuesday – the day after Christmas – to get a contract approved before the first of the year.
If the city really wants to be in the golf business, good luck. Generally speaking, the rate of play across the country took a huge hit during the Great Recession. If we believe that having public golf courses is good for the quality of life in Sioux Falls, that the legacy of public ownership is something we want to continue, it’s probably time to finally decide what that model should like.
Dakota Golf has rolled with the punches over the years. They survived the lean times and done what they can to adjust the relationship. But golf is not a gold mine. In fact, it’s a tough business.
My concern, ultimately, is not the defense of Dakota Golf. Business is business and if there’s a better way to go, what is it? That’s a separate conversation.
What worries me is the at times puzzling nature of how the Huether Administration is doing business with this contract. There’s some unnecessary heavy handedness that simply doesn’t make sense. That’s why the Council said no and why we find ourselves in a rather ridiculous situation.
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