Brigantine Links Golf Course Deal Shrouded in Secrecy

To the editor from Anne H. Phillips of the Brigantine Taxpayers Association:  “Transparency in government is not just a fine-sounding ideal but something voters expect those they elect to practice. It’s missing in the golf course deal involving its food and beverage, including alcohol, operation.” These comments were made at the April 15 council meeting.

On March 18, council voted to extend the contract the city has with Meadowbrook Golf and a approved an item allowing Meadowbrook to subcontract food and beverage service to another company. There was no public discussion of this addition to the original contract, and no knowledge by the public and the minority party on council of the ongoing business activities of this other company at the clubhouse.

When I protested at the council meeting of this haste and secrecy surrounding this deal, Mayor Guenther said I should have read the backup information in the computer about this transfer. He asserted repeatedly that such information constituted public disclosure – no public discussion was needed or required.

Brigantine Links Golf Deal and Mayor Guenther Back Room Deal

Mayor Guenther, there was not and is not any backup material on this contract extension and subcontracting in the computer. Not only was the choice of another company done hastily (with, maybe, a predetermined outcome?), it was made without what would be better protection for the interests of taxpayers, a request for proposal, by the city.

There is no contract or any other paperwork authorizing the transfer of food, beverage and liquor operation at The Links from Meadowbrook to any other company, according to the city clerk’s response to our OPRA request.

The solicitor requested such paperwork from council at the April 1 meeting. Councilman Simpson said he thought there was such a document and he’d provide it.

Since this involves a municipal liquor license, (concessionaire’s permit), the state has an interest in knowing that proper procedures and papers are in order. Where are they? All papers need to be made public.

This is not transparency. A better description would appear to be a “back-room deal.”

These are not exactly circumstances to enhance Brigantine’s reputation and increase respect for its government.

Following are facts and comments flowing from the April 15 discussion.

When questioned by the mayor and another council member whether or not the city has any paperwork regarding this transfer, the city solicitor, contrary to the city clerk’s letter, revealed he has been involved in reviewing, and twice rejecting, a proposed contract. There is now no such contract.

Council must do its duty and approve, or not, such a contract authorizing this transfer to a Meadowbrook-appointed vendor for food and beverage, including alcohol. Councilman DeLucry stated clearly and accurately that council obviously needs to be informed about such a document, particularly in regard to the concessionaire (liquor) permit. This permit is in the municipality’s hands. It is responsible for its proper use within state Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations. Apparently, the city solicitor, who provides legal advice to council, kept it in the dark about his official participation in this matter. That is clearly unacceptable.

The mayor, however, was “concerned” that council might be overstepping its duties when declaring its right and need to be informed.

The Links is owned by the city, that is, the taxpayers. Any such contract must state all financial and operational obligations by all parties and be made known to the public.

The golf course remains a utility, established as a self-sustaining entity, even though over $1,000,000 in tax revenue has been budgeted in 2014 and 2015 to keep it going.

The state ABC must approve the transfer. Such approvals take time because applicants are subject to an extensive review. During this period Meadowbrook will still be in control of the sale of alcohol under its separate lease with the city.

From all appearances, this business has been handled badly – hastily, incompetently, deceptively and without transparency. It’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Anne H. Phillips

Brigantine Taxpayers Association

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