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Palm Coast Monday, Mar. 14, 2022 3 months ago

Flagler Beach terminates contract with company managing Ocean Palm Golf Course

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The city will seek a new management company.
by: Jonathan Simmons Senior Editor

The Ocean Palm Golf Course will soon be under new management: The Flagler Beach City Commission voted unanimously at a March 10 meeting to end the city's contract with the current management company and seek a new one to manage the city-owned course. 

"We are tired of chasing the data. We have to continue to ask and ask and ask and not receive, and it has been going on for years."

 

— WILLIAM WHITSON, Flagler Beach city manager

The commission's decision followed testimony from city staff members who said that Flagler Golf Management, which had reopened the previously derelict 9-hole golf course in 2016, had failed to submit financial statements as required by its lease.

When city staff attempting to have an audit performed requested documentation from the company, city staff members said, the documents that did arrive were often incomplete and were sent only after repeated requests — in one such instance requiring 18 back-and-forth emails.

"We, as a commission, have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Flagler Beach," City Commissioner Ken Bryan said at the meeting. "... And from what I can see, over all these years, we as a commission — not individually, but as a commission — we have not been doing our job as far as holding the lessees to the fire to what they're supposed to have been doing within the contents of the lease. And that's when I have a severe problem with this."

Flagler Golf Management's representatives, at the meeting, acknowledged that there had been problems.

But Flagler Golf Management owner Tiffany McManus, who recently took over the company, said she wanted a chance to show the city her vision of what the course could be, while representative Bruce Godwin laid the financial documentation problems on pandemic-related challenges or on misunderstandings. 

"We've endured some hurricanes. We've endured something that no one anticipated, which is a pandemic," Godwin said. "And all of these things affected all of us, and all of our lives. Some of these things directly affected any business, whether it was a golf course a restaurant or what have you, and not all things were always done as they should be."

"We've endured some hurricanes. We've endured something that no one anticipated, which is a pandemic. ... Some of these things directly affected any business, whether it was a golf course, a restaurant or what have you, and not all things were always done as they should be."

 

— BRUCE GODWIN, Flagler Golf Management

City staff and commissioners weren't convinced, noting that problems with the golf course's management had predated the pandemic. 

Godwin said he'd thought the financial records the city had asked for had been supplied to the city. City staff members promptly contested that.

"Mr. Chairman, if I may?" City Manager William Whitson interjected. "They have never been provided to us — at all. Kathleen [Finance Director Kathleen Doyle] is here. She knows what has been provided to the city. And we are tired of chasing the data. We have to continue to ask and ask and ask and not receive, and it has been going on for years. This is not something that just happened because of COVID."

Staff also said that the management company had been allowing locals to perform volunteer work on the golf course, in some cases in exchange for free rounds of golf. 

Godwin acknowledged that. 

"You've got a great community around, and you got a lot of people who, they may be retired or not working as much, they like golf. They're looking for something to do ... and a lot of people are volunteers by nature," he said.

City Attorney Drew Smith said the management company's use of volunteer labor was potentially illegal, since it's a for-profit business.

"McDonald's could say, 'These people are retired and they just want to hang out during the day, so we let them work for free.' I guarantee you FLSA [the Fair Labor Standards Act] would have a problem with that, and that sounds like what I just heard," Smith said.

Commissioner Eric Cooley noted that rewarding volunteers with free golf undercut the city's sales and violated the management company's contract with the city.

A handful of city residents spoke at the meeting, most of them neighbors of the golf property who urged commissioners to work things out with Flagler Golf Management and said that they didn't want the course to fall into disrepair of be converted into some other form of attraction.

Whitson called those fears unfounded.

"Zoning on the land doesn't allow for us to put a bunch of condos or a racetrack or all the other rumors that are floating around out there," Whitson said. "I don't have time to chase all the rumors that I've heard. They're just not true."

He added that the city had recently purchased the course's driving range from a private owner —the closing had happened two days ago, he said — and now owns the whole course.

"It will be the recreational amenity to the city. It will function as a golf course," he said.

Commissioner Jane Mealy, responding to residents who'd said the city and the management company just need to work together, said the city had already attempted that.

"While I would love to work together — sounds very nice — I think we tried, 2017 and earlier this year, and more recently," she said. "And I don't see us working together. I see a lot of excuses."

Commissioners, finding that Flagler Golf Management had breached the lease, voted 5-0 to terminate the city's lease with the company and send out a request for proposals for new management.

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