BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A contentious meeting of the Kinser Park Commission resulted in a sharply divided vote Tuesday to close the Kinser Park Golf Course -- at least temporarily.
The commission has long struggled through numerous issues surrounding the park, which is jointly administered, through the commission, by the Greene County Commission and the Town of Greeneville.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) owns the property where Kinser Park is located and leases it to Greeneville and Greene County.
In turn, the golf course is sublet out by park officials, and the course manager is responsible for providing all equipment and services related to its upkeep and operation.
On Tuesday, problem subjects on the Park Commission's agenda included increased utility costs, the possible need to increase campsite fees, and automatic bill payments without managerial review. (These subjects will be covered in a separate article.)
The issues related to the golf course, which is a public course, have been ongoing for several months now, however, and culminated in Tuesday's divided vote.
Greene County Commissioner Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers, newly appointed to the Kinser Park Commission by County Mayor Alan Broyles earlier this month, made the motion to close the course until either the questions concerning it are resolved or the commission chooses to take some other action.
County Commissioner and Park Commission member M.C. Rollins seconded the motion, which first passed 5-2, with Park Commission members Max Cox and Greeneville Alderman Keith Paxton opposed.
Besides Bowers and Rollins, those voting in favor of the motion were Park Commission members Marshall Brown, County Commissioner Phil King, and at-large member Dr. Hayden Scott.
Marshall Brown, who is superintendent of the Link Hills Country Club Golf Course (a private course) and a former superintendent of Nolichucky View Golf Course, asked to change his vote to No shortly thereafter.
The change made the final vote 4-3 to close the Kinser Park course.
Kinser Park Commission Chairman Bob Schubel abstained from the vote, but twice said that the course had gone to "rack and ruin."
Rollins referred to the course as a "cow pasture," and Park Manager Rex Oster reported that visitors to the park have recently described it as "unplayable."
"Even the regulars that used to come out every Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- they haven't been out," Oster said.
2011-2012 COURSE HISTORY
In December 2011, the Kinser Park Commission voted against renewing its lease with then-golf course Manager Gary Ricker.
Ricker attended Tuesday's meeting and was still being referred to as the course manager by several of the commission members.
Ricker's 10-year lease, which had expired on Oct. 31, 2011, included options for two more 10-year renewal periods.
At the December 2011 meeting, Schubel had pointed to a failure by Ricker to make June and July 2011 lease payments as the reason for the commission's not renewing the lease, which had called for monthly payments to the park for 10 percent of green fees and cart fees.
Ricker promised during the commission's January 2012 meeting to make the back payments.
In February, the commission voted to give him 30 more days to manage the course, after which they planned to open the management position for public bids.
The motion noted that the commission would inspect and closely monitor the course during those 30 days and that Ricker would be allowed to submit a bid.
At that time, Schubel cited inadequate bookkeeping and the lack of regular monthly payments by Ricker as the reason for the change.
In March, the commission discussed ways to advertise for the golf course manager's position and reviewed a letter, dated March 14, from Schubel to Ricker.
The letter said, in part, "As you already are aware from attending a recent meeting of the Kinser Park Commission, the lease which you have had with Kinser Park will not be renewed.
"The reason, as you know, is the inability of Town of Greeneville auditors to reconcile the amount of your checks to the amount of your debt to the park, since you have rarely provided even the most basic accounting.
"The commission will soon be taking applications for a new golf course manager.
"We do not know how long it will take to find one, and therefore it is difficult for us to give you a precise date to vacate the park.
"However, we can tell you that as soon as a new manager has been secured, you will have no less than 15 days and no more than 30 days to vacate Kinser Park after we give you a date in writing.
"You may vacate sooner if you wish, but we expect you to pay the park at least the way you have been paying, as long as you remain.
"And, when we say 'vacate,' we mean full and complete removal of all golf carts, mowers, pro shop and apartment equipment, tools and old mowers, maintenance equipment in the shop building, and so forth, so that by the 30th day, anything remaining shall belong to Kinser Park.
"We shall be bringing potential managers to see the golf operation from time to time and will call ahead for your convenience. We expect to maintain a friendly and dignified relationship with you until our business is complete."
NO NEW MANAGER HIRED
Since that time, the commission has reviewed applications and heard from interested parties during monthly commission meetings.
However, no new golf course manager has been hired.
The recent death of Greene County Commissioner Brenda Grogan, who served as the Kinser Park Commission's secretary, as well as the resignation in February of two other commission members, has caused the commission some delay in action on certain matters, Schubel said on Tuesday.
Still, the commission has voted to approve the purchase and installation of a flow meter on the water pump at the golf course.
The park is required by TVA to place backflow meters on all of its water hookups.
When the Park Commission voted to take bids on the flow meter, Oster reported that the water pump at the course was, at that time, "completely disassembled."
Last month, he followed up by reporting that the flow meter was installed but was still not operational.
On Tuesday, Ricker did not contest the descriptions given about the course, but explained that Oster found the water pump disassembled because it was under repair.
Repairs took longer than had been estimated -- about three weeks -- but were successful, with the water pump running again just before the flow meter was installed, Ricker said.
Since the flow meter installation, however, he said, the pump has again been inoperable.
"With that flow meter, I hadn't been able to get it to work," Ricker said. "We've just really run out of time, funds."
He noted that workers' tools were also stolen from the locked pump house.
"Without water, it doesn't take but a few days because we mow on the 16th," he said. "We haven't had any rain."
Ricker said he would have preferred to have been notified so he could have been present when the flow meter was installed.
"You kind of have to let the pressure off that easy," he said. "It was running when you guys put that flow meter in, but since then, it's kind of up and down, up and down.
"When you let the water out of it, it has all that head pressure pushing back on it. If you don't do it easy, then it sucks all those plastic valves and the sprinkler head, too. It'll crush them."
Oster said he would check with the installers, but he noted they spent 40 minutes on the project. He seemed to indicate that they took an appropriate amount of time for the installation.
Ricker clarified that he was not implying that the installers had done anything wrong and said he knew he had a water leak somewhere as well.
Schubel expressed some skepticism that such a "foolish" mistake would have been made, and he and Ricker began talking over each other for a time.
"Do we have a contract with Gary?" Bowers asked, cutting into the conversation.
"We have no contract with Gary," Schubel replied.
"Why don't we close that thing until we can deal with it?" Bowers asked.
"Well, it's closed," Schubel said.
Ricker contested this, however, stating that the course is still open.
Schubel said the reports that no one has been running the shop seemed contrary to its being open.
"If you don't have a contract with anyone, we can't deal with it tonight, and we're not going to be able to deal with it in the next month or two.
"Let's just close it down until we can deal with it," Bowers said, making a motion to take that action.
"I'm done with it anyway, because I've had nothing but negative, for the most part, on trying to get help," Ricker said.
"I should have been out there when the pump was taken apart to show them what was going on because I've run that, I've put all that stuff together for the last 15 years."
While the water pump issue continued to be contested, Schubel asked that Ricker vacate the golf course.
"I called Mr. Ron Woods [Greeneville's attorney] today, and he suggested we ask Gary, since the course has not been running, for whatever reason, to remove anything you've got out there, Gary, since we've got no contract, no relationship anymore.
"Get everything out of there as soon as you can."
"On my behalf, I've got a 10-year contract with two 10-year renewals," Ricker replied.
"You voted on that, Bob, on the time when Fay Bird said that you guys were paying my electric bill.
"So you voted on that under false pretense, and you never, ever talked to me about it ever again. And my father was in the hospital."
"That was all corrected in the minutes," Bird responded to Ricker.
Schubel requested to hear from each of the members who voted against closing the golf course.
Paxton said the running of the course should be managed by Ricker and added that he had seemed to give sufficient explanation about the water pump.
Brown said it was not his place to tell Ricker how to run the golf course.
He described golf course operation as a "dog-eat-dog business" that is nearly impossible without steady revenue.
Cox agreed, pointing to the difficult economic times.
Schubel said that the commission would all be pleased if someone was able to clean up the course.
"It appears we're past all that. The thing is basically shut down and inoperable," Schubel said.
"We're in a situation now where Mr. Ricker should get his stuff out of there, and we're going to move on."