Asset (Mis)Management

Time and time again, the very people entrusted with managing and enhancing the public assets of the city fail to serve the community’s interest. The recent decision on the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, “Muni”, illustrates the key elements at play.

First: the failure to focus on the right priorities. With a myriad of issues facing the city, the Council has expended great time and effort legislating and then de-legislating on the Golf Course. So the Council legislated several months ago to grant the mayor additional powers in the administration of Muni. Then yesterday the council effectively reversed itself. And in the process consumed a great deal of time accomplishing nothing. Meanwhile many other priorities stay on the sideline.

The possible reasons for reversing their decision do not shed a good light on the Council: 1) they did not think through the implications of their initial decision 2) they sacrificed the public good  intended with granting the mayor additional oversight versus the good of the golf course commission 3) they sacrificed better governance in favor of better politics

Second: the failure to focus on the big picture. The golf course is a key asset for the community in several ways– the market value of the land, the prestige of the course as a Robert Trent Jones designed course, the playability of the course for the public and the enhanced marketability and quality of life for the community. That said, I think it’s fair to ask if we are maximizing or at least maintaining the value of the asset along all its facets. This is the ‘big picture’ question.

Based upon some of the letters to the editor from current members, we learned that Muni has some operational issues including quality of the course and untapped membership growth possibilities. At the same time, the operational management and accountability for the course seems to rest with a committee whose role and membership is not widely known to the community. (In fact, a Google search to the Muni site brings you to a broken site with no links to any information on governance). As an example, it was reported that the minutes of meetings are not available. Given the importance of Muni, I don’t think this is acceptable as a matter of public record and as a public asset. Also the state of the Web site linkage from Google is completely unacceptable.

On the other hand, I think some criticism directed at golfers is unfair and irrelevant to the strategy and policy of running the course. While the members may be cliquey, the fact is that they are paying members of the course and they should be accorded the respect as customers of the course. As a matter of customer management, it’s not surprising that customers would be displeased when the features of their product and service changes. I’ll admit to not knowing the particulars around tee times but from a product and customer management perspective it should not be surprising at the response to the change midseason.

Finally: the lack of accountability, transparency and oversight. I support Muni and by extension the membership at Muni. However, I do not find it acceptable that an important public and community asset is operated and managed outside the public fold with no clear transparency and  accountability to the public. While members pay a fee for playing at Muni, the course is a public course and ultimately the public is also a key stakeholder along with the golfers. The gap in accountability and transparency to public stakeholders remains the unfinished business from this episode.

If the path to “finishing the business” and operating the course goes down this path, we’re all in trouble (from the Daily Gazette):

Instead, Brumley made a motion to amend the new ordinance, enacting a chain of command starting with the Golf Course Commission, then the commission’s liaison and ending with the mayor and Common Council.

“This way, the mayor and Common Council still have the final decision,” Brumley said.

This assures that no one will have decision making authority and frankly, the role of the council is to legislate not to execute which is the mayor’s role.

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