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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4 Responses

  1. metoo says:

    WOW….This is a HOT issue…Do you want to keep this part of the taxpayers ownership in the dark…Muni oversite committee? I own it too even though I do not know the differnce between a Wood or an Iron( but I do know the difference between wood & iron)used as clubs.
    I want to know how much it is costing me…Is it a wash? I noticed that one member in the Recorder thinks its like the parks or pool and we should all take the financial loss if there is one it causes…Do you believe this? He must be like Bush and have a silver spoon in his mouth…REALLY…
    We have NO industry in the City and almost 1/3 of our properties are tax free…so we must take care to minimize our tax liablity
    and sell the Golf Course to some entity who can make it profitable for the Taxpayers. Then it will still be here, golfers can still have the use of it and the Citizens can admire it while gaining profit from it an ideal situation.

  2. rug city says:

    I agree w/much of Flippin’s analysis of this issue, especially the part about recognizing Muni as a key asset for the community. Regardless of one’s opinion on the changes, tee times, etc., the larger message that I get is that many folks either a)don’t care whether this course has a long term future or b) have outright contempt for the course and what it represents (a playground for Amsterdam’s well-to-do leisure set).
    I find both of these mindsets immature, shortsighted, and dangerous to the viability of Amsterdam’s future.
    The Robert Trent Jones Municipal Golf Course is perhaps the city’s premeire remaining point of pride. That this masterpiece of outdoor architectural genius sits in the middle of our creaking old industrial city borders on the fantastical. Standing at the T-Box on the 4th hole with the Valley and farms to your left and the course laid out in front of you- this is certainly not Amsterdam, this must be a mirage. But no, it is very real, and it is acres of recreational pulchritude as far as the eye can see, dead smack in the heart of the city- not the town, not perth/broadalbin, florida, etc. and yet the bitter, pennypinching old fools who care about nothing beyond their front lawns, question whether this course is adding an extra half-cent to their taxes.
    I personally use the course once or twice a Summer and hope to use it much more later in life, but I’ve always recognized its value to our city and I appreciate that the current members can keep this afloat for the rest of us without having to resort to huge public subsidies or grants. The value this course brings to our community, our home values, our quality of life, our last vestiges of prestige far outweigh the extra half-cent it may require to fill the gap to keep it viable.
    One last personal note to drive my point home: A few years back when my family decided to move from Westchester county to Amsterdam I could tell that my downstate in-laws looked around and wondered what would ever possess us to settle in this faded old industrial town. That summer I invited them to attend a fundraiser golf outing at Muni, and as they sat out on the Clubhouse patio w/cocktail in hand, on a picture perfect upstate Summer day w/the course and the valley stretched out before them, they started to realize what Amsterdam once was and perhaps still might be.

  3. rug city says:

    Correct that- 5th hole is the scenic hole I refer to(though there are far more scenic holes I’m sure), 4th is the ‘gully hole’ where I lose three balls every round.

  1. November 21, 2008

    […]   I posted a while back on how the governance and transparency at Muni needs radical changes (here). Let me be clear: Muni remains a key asset for the city and needs to be preserved as a viable […]

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