Augusta Municipal Golf Course will remain under city management and the city’s ambulance service will be put on notice of the city’s intent to seek competitive bids after a heated commission meeting Tuesday.
Two votes on a lease of “The Patch” failed, with Commissioner Marion Williams, voting last by roll call in alphabetical order, abstaining each time and preventing Mayor Deke Copenhaver from breaking the tie. The votes fell along color lines.
The city-owned course was returned to city management last year after The Patch in Augusta LLC abandoned its lease and quit paying staff. A bid by three local brothers fell
apart after the commission refused to pay for course improvements.
Commissioner Alvin Mason said Tuesday’s appearance of a lease agreement with Virginia Beach Golf Management, a firm selected through Augusta’s procurement process, and any perceived urgency to lease the course was “a manufactured crisis” of which he would have no part.
“The track record of those who pushed for this before is not good,” Mason said of the white majority, no longer on the commission, that voted to seek private management at the course. “I will not sit here my last two years with the demographics we have here
now and let that happen. … We’ve got to have the discussion.”
Commissioner Bill Fennoy questioned why the course is expected to turn a profit while the city’s aquatics and tennis facilities are not. Routine annual operating losses were the primary reason cited by commissioners who voted to outsource the course.
Voting in favor of the lease, Commissioner Donnie Smith cited the city’s projected $5.2 million deficit and questioned why a firm “willing to give us a $100,000 check today” was being turned down.
“We are elected to try to be good stewards of the public’s money,” he said.
Also voting in favor, Commissioner Mary Davis said she was a golfer who had taken call after call about the course’s “dire need of professional attention.”
Commissioner Corey Johnson said he wanted to wait until the city hires a recreation director who can “take a look at the contract.”
City Administrator Fred Russell said earlier that he was attempting to finalize negotiations with a candidate for the vacant post and had a backup candidate ready.
A motion to deny the lease failed 5-4 with Fennoy, Johnson, Mason and Bill Lockett voting yes. A motion to approve the lease failed 5-4 with Davis, Wayne Guilfoyle, Joe Jackson, Grady Smith and Donnie Smith voting yes.
A vote to re-bid the city’s ambulance contract passed 9-1, with only Jackson voting no.
Augusta Fire Chief Chris James has been critical of the 2005 contract with Gold Cross EMS, saying it is too vague to be policed, but commissioners insisted
their decision Tuesday was routine and had nothing to do with the company’s service.
“What was needed in 2005 may not necessarily be the things we need in 2014,” Mason said, also discounting a petition from the Richmond County Neighborhood Alliance warning against monopolies in the ambulance service.
“If you notice, especially today, I’m not addressing any petition, period,” Mason said.
Representatives of Augusta ambulance companies South Star and Capital City were present for the meeting, and a South Star spokesman said the firm likely would bid on the contract.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said he was “disappointed, because we’ve done an excellent job” but would have to see what the city’s request for proposals said before making a decision to bid.
“The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ might come into play,” he said. “We were hoping to be here for years to come.”