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Board minority in Pines keeps golf questions coming

(March 12, 2015) Although the Ocean Pines Board of Directors made a definitive decision on golf management last month, some board members continue to question the motives and methods behind the 4-3 vote.
“We are hiring a company that we know nothing about other than what is in their promotional catalogs,” said Director Bill Cordwell, who voted with the minority. “No research was done on their background. The search when a previous board hired Casper was exhaustive with visits to courses they were managing, references, etc. and a catalog of everything they did.”
Director Tom Terry, who also voted with the minority, agreed that the 2010 process was extensive.
“It involved onsite visits by a group that was vetting the various companies,” he said. “I think the dynamic of this particular [request for proposal] was slightly different, in that back then they were clearly going to find someone to take over and manage the course. In our particular case this time, we had an incumbent who may, in fact, have stayed.”
The board made the shift from self-management in 2010 when it handed the job to Billy Casper Golf.
“Back in 2010, they were changing direction,” Terry said. “This time we may have ended up keeping the management company we had or looking at a different one. That is not to say that the level of investigation that was done in 2010 was done again, because it was not.”
In September 2010, the board had a 64-page booklet entitled “Outsourcing Task Force Report to the Board of Directors.”
The report included financial comparisons between bidders, an assessment of actual results versus pro forma estimates, recommendations, responses to follow-up questions and correspondences with comparable courses using the vendors.
This year, the board received a 15-page question-and-answer booklet from Landscapes, as well as a booklet touting the company’s management services.
Cordwell went on to say that the day before the vote, several members of the board were given information that could have swayed the decision away from Landscapes.
“Some board members were given information about serious allegations about this company, including poor business, legal and personnel practices and financial improprieties, but [Board President] Dave Stevens didn’t think that should be brought up at the meeting and the rest of us didn’t find out about it until days later after the vote had been taken,” he said.
“That vote could have been delayed a few days while these allegations were investigated, but it apparently wasn’t important enough as Stevens said, ‘the decision had already been made.’
“We, the residents, are left to pick up the bill as we will be paying [Landscapes] a lot more than we pay Casper, all to satisfy Stevens’ need to take power away from the general manager,” Cordwell continued.
“In my opinion, Stevens was intent on hiring anybody to replace Casper no matter who they were even though we had the best year financially in a decade and some that have been around here a long time say the course is in the best shape it has been in 30 years.”
Cordwell went on to say that Stevens “doesn’t like the fact that Casper reports to the general manager and has a good relationship with him.”
“[Landscapes] has said they would report directly to Stevens and the board instead of to the general manager,” Cordwell said. “I believe that is a violation of our by-laws, as the general manager is tasked with running the day-to-day operations, not the board. After seeing how screwed up this process was, this board shouldn’t be running the day-to-day operations of a snowball stand.”
Terry also acknowledged Cordwell’s assertion that the board received late information.
“We uncovered some information that needed to be vetted, and that is being done as we speak to work through some of the issues that may have come up,” he said. “Once [Landscapes] had been picked, there were some phone calls that raised a couple of issues that were contractual, which I can’t speak to.”
Terry went on to say that he believed General Manager Bob Thompson was “fully correct” in bringing his reservations to the board’s attention at its Feb. 28 meeting.
During the course of that session, Thompson said he was troubled by the board’s decision and that it appeared that the board hadn’t done its homework.
“Obviously,” Terry said, “some people were not happy that he did that, but I think Dave had already been notified of the issues and the other board members were, in my mind, simply being brought up to speed on some of what may have been uncovered.”
According to Terry, Thompson had discussions with himself and Director Pat Renaud the day prior to the vote.
“Pat was going to call Dave Stevens that day to make sure he was aware of what had been uncovered, so it wasn’t exactly something that [Thompson] could go into all the detail of what may or may not be relevant accusations or not. You don’t do that in public until you find out whether or not these things are real, or simply somebody that did not like somebody.
“Bob talked to two board members, so I didn’t see any issue about bringing it up to the rest of the board,” Terry said.
Terry said there was “always a chance” the negotiations with Landscapes would fall through.
“Until you’re done negotiating with someone you’re not done,” he said. “You don’t know what issues may or may not come up between the two sides as they negotiate a long-term contract. I don’t anticipate it falling through, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.”
Stevens could not be reached for comment.
Vice President Marty Clarke, who voted to oust Casper, disagreed that the board did less work in vetting Landscapes.
“I was there for both [and] I would say it’s just not a true statement,” he said. “The fact is that Pete Gomsak and a couple of guys on the committee [in 2010] actually went to some of the courses. I don’t know that that’s necessary. They went and played golf. God love ‘em.”
Clarke was unsure if the 2015 search committee visited neighboring courses.
“I don’t think they did – so what,” he said. “I’m happy. I think it was a well done process.”
Clarke went on to say that a golf steering committee – not the entire board – gathered information in both cases.
“You can’t get this board to agree that we’re in the state of Maryland for God’s sake,” he said. “The process [in both cases] was for the steering committee to bring the finalists before the board. That’s exactly how it happened the last time.”
Second-guessing the board decision, Clarke said, “is like worrying about how to buy hay for the horse that died in the barn last month.”
“The fact is that they were done very similar,” he said. “Do I think that one steering committee did more due diligence than another other? No I don’t. I think they both made excellent efforts with just fine outcomes.”
The board released two agendas for a special session on Thursday, March 12 on Monday. Before the 3 p.m. vote on the fiscal year budget, the board will go into a closed session at 2 p.m. to discuss “personnel matters,” likely stemming from Thompson’s comments on Feb. 28.