Heated Lemoore Council meeting ends with councilmembers opting to lease the golf course

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Lemoore's Golf Course Clubhouse
Lemoore's Golf Course Clubhouse

Lemoore’s regular Tuesday council meeting turned a bit rancorous before council members, after nearly three hours of sometimes heated discussion, finally decided they would vote 3-1 to try and lease the Lemoore Municipal Golf Course, ordering city staff to put together a Request for Proposal (RFP). Only Willard Rodarmel voted against the RFP option.

The RFP will include mandates that the course remain open to the public and that the new management assume the financial risk of the course.  Lemoore Recreation Director Joe Simonson said completing the RFP should take him about 30 days to complete and then another 90 days to advertise for bids.

Tuesday’s meeting, while not officially a public hearing on the state of the often-talked about course, turned into yet another hearing as members of the public and council members, primarily the mayor, Billy Siegel, sparred for nearly three hours. Some members say they need additional time to study the issue and get all the facts. Others said the golf course issue is more than just dollars and cents. “The golf course will be an asset,” said Dan Gudgel. “I think the golf course is a strong contribution to the overall quality of life of the city,” he continued.

“We need more of these meetings,” said Karen Osterland, a frequent visitor to the council chambers. While she insisted she may not necessarily be against a lease, she insisted the city must be prudent in its deliberations. “We want to make sure we need to go that way (lease),” she said. “We don’t want you to do anything prematurely.”

The council and city staff have been locked in a six-month long sparring session with a determined group of citizens who have pleaded with council members to keep the course in the public’s hands. The Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi have made a $5 million dollar offer to buy the course, insisting they would keep it a public course.

Even Lemoore Golf Manager Rich Rhoads has offered to lease the course, but was taken aback when city leaders suggested that he come up with an up-front payment of $1 million and take all the risks associated with the golf course. Rich told The Leader he is continuing to work with city officials in determining the true costs of the course and is still interested in a lease arrangement.

The city still owes $3.5 million on the course and some council members, primarily Siegel, insist the operation of the course must change in order to protect the interests of the Lemoore taxpayer, who said the city cannot sacrifice essential services such as police and fire, to pay for the operation of the golf course.

The course, historically has often come up short in its ability to pay the debt service and in past years has relied on relief from the former Lemoore Redevelopment Agency to make up some of the shortfall. However, for the last two or three years, the course has managed to pay its debt service. Any future debt relief would have to come from the general fund, the same fund that pays for police and fire services.

Things turned a bit rancorous when council member John Gordon suggested that the four-month discussion on the golf course has gone on too long and that perhaps there has been too much “filibustering.”  He added: “We need to make some hard decisions.”

Osterland took exception to Gordon’s comments. “I am insulted,” she said in referring to Gordon’s insinuation that perhaps those in opposition to the sale of the course were filibustering, or delaying a final decision. “Look at ways to increase revenues,” she said. “Until you have your facts (straight) don’t make another decision. Table this until we have everything sorted through.”

Another participant, Carol Campbell, also felt the sting of Gordon’s comments. “I take offense to what Mr. Gordon said. I don’t think this is ridiculous.”

Sherry Hamrick, who spent the better part of an hour sparring with Siegel in the earlier study session was angry as well. “If I’m going to be called a filibusterer then I’m going to filibuster,” she said. It was Hamrick who earlier in the evening presented councilmembers with a series of suggestions which included the formation of a golf course commission as well as a golf course advisory committee that would take a comprehensive look at the operations and future of the Lemoore Golf Course. She also suggested a financial advisory group to study the course’s finances.

In addition to creating an RFP to lease the course, councilmembers, at their next meeting, will consider a rate increase as well as a possible proposal from Rodarmel to create a cap on the amount of general fund money to be spent on the course. While he didn’t have a figure in mind, the thought may be $100,000. “I want a cap to help pay for it (course),” said Rodarmel, the longest current serving member of the city council. He also suggested that the city may tack on an additional amount to a proposed rate increase to pay for an asset replacement fund for the golf course.

Siegel also suggested that the final say could come from the public at large, and that perhaps there may be a public referendum on the matter at some future date. “You vote to pay for it,” he said.

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