O'Malley takes swing at golf board over fees

Mayor wants charges raised to provide funding for youths

January 17, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

First, he took on the city's pension boards. Now Mayor Martin O'Malley is taking on the golf board.

O'Malley, showing disdain for what he called the board's "country club" mentality, angrily urged the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. yesterday to raise greens fees at the city's five public courses to provide more funding for programs for Baltimore's youth.

His comments laced with class-conscious rhetoric, O'Malley told the stunned executive director of the private nonprofit group that he was furious that the board would raise green fees to pay for golf course improvements -- as it did Jan. 1 -- but not to increase its contributions to public programs for children.

"I find your board arrogant, I find them disrespectful, I find them Ivory Tower," O'Malley told the executive director, William L. "Lynnie" Cook II, at yesterday's premeeting of the Board of Estimates.

The mayor then said that in a city with a high rate of juvenile gun violence, the board's reluctance to raise greens fees to support youth programs "really makes my blood boil."

"Tell [the board] we want them to raise their green fees," O'Malley continued, aware that the city's regular greens fees, which range from $17.50 to $25 on weekends, are lower than those of public courses in Baltimore and Howard counties. "They're called to serve as well, and if they'd rather not, they're all welcome to find another board to serve on."

By law, the mayor has almost no control over the corporation and appoints one member of the 10-person board. But like the city's pension boards, which responded last year when O'Malley pressured them on investing locally, the golf corporation says it wants to work with the mayor. The board plans to hold a meeting in the next two weeks.

"If it's a question of dollars, we're going to have to go back and re-examine our commitments and see what we can do," David A. Brune, chairman of the golf corporation board, said in a later interview. "If there's something we can do to support the city, we will."

Brune and Cook said the independent corporation is self-sufficient, funding golf course improvements and programs through greens fees and, under a formal agreement with the city, contributing $400,000 annually to the nonprofit Baltimore City Foundation.

About 750 youths are registered as junior golf members, Cook said, and perhaps hundreds more participate in youth camps, tournaments and other programs.

But Cook argues that it's not a good time to raise greens fees because the golf course industry is suffering nationally. Also, he said, when the golf corporation was formed in 1985, under then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the intent wasn't to provide golf to citizens at high prices.

The Schaefer administration set up the private nonprofit organization at a time when the city's golf courses were losing money. In a model that has been copied elsewhere in the nation, the corporation took over the operation of the public courses and turned around their finances.

"We're running a successful nonprofit organization that gives money back to the city," Cook said. "We think we've done a fine job. We were supposed to provide the citizens of Baltimore with affordable golf, and we've done that, and we've helped kids."

But O'Malley said in an interview yesterday that's not enough, though he has yet to specify an amount.

O'Malley's anger runs deeper than greens fees. Last year, he wanted retired Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. to serve on the board, but board members rejected the idea. O'Malley relayed this last week to top city officials at a Board of Estimates meeting, saying the golf board had no use for city officials.

"They think we're all stupid and corrupt and incompetent," he said. "In my time here, I haven't met anybody more contemptuous of the elected officials of the city than the municipal golf board."

Brune said that was not true. He also said Williams wasn't considered for the board because it has no openings. The board didn't add another member.

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