Discussion about issues regarding the Devine Golf Course and its management dominated the nearly four-hour meeting held last Tuesday, February 15.
The meeting featured feedback and commentary from a number of residents in attendance about the golf course not being sold or audited, and saw Council reject Mayor Cory Thompson’s request to indefinitely table any discussion of an audit of outgoing golf course management company SG Golf Management unless all Council members turned over their personal financial information for audit and all City contracts with outside entities were updated to bring them in line with the financial disclosures required in SG Golf Management’s contract.
Council also tabled action on Jay Dishman’s request to manage the course pending the completion of legal paperwork, and granted Jerry and Melissa Stevens of Charlie’s Daughter permission to access the clubhouse to install kitchen equipment.
Several residents addressed Council during the Visitors/Citizens Forum portion of the meeting, including District 2 Councilwoman Angela Pichardo.
Billy Alvarado read a prepared statement informing Council that he is “pursuing a criminal complaint against this administration with the Texas Rangers and District Attorney for possible embezzlement of public funds as well as malfeasance in office and abuse of official capacity”.
Alvarado’s submitted his statement as a letter to the editor, which is printed on the Commentary page in this edition.
Many residents also addressed Council on various agenda items throughout the meeting, including on the proposed forensic audit and whether a proposition about selling the golf course should be included in the May election (see separate story). Citizens’ comments on those agenda items and more can be heard in full by watching the archived live stream of the meeting, which is available on the City website at cityofdevine.org/live-council-meetings.
Pichardo raised the issue of what financial paperwork SG Golf Management has turned in to the City.
“I don’t know where we stand at this point,” Pichardo soid. “The last correspondence, they had not submitted any of the required reports, and so I just wanted to address that so that way when we do have an additional management company or anyone else who takes over that we know where we stand.”
According to its contract with the City, SG Golf Management is required to turn over a number of financial documents. Scott Grego of SG Golf Management admitted in a June 2021 meeting that a number of those documents had not been turned and that there was no plan to turn them in going forwards. Instead, Grego asked that the contract be amended to eliminate a number of the requirements, which Council voted 4-1 over Pichardo’s dissent to undertake. Council also voted against pursuing an audit of SG Golf Management’s finances (see “Grego refuses to comply with City-golf course contract; no audit ordered on how half-million dollars was spent” in the June 23, 2021 edition of The Devine News).
Council later voted against approving the contract amendments presented (see “Council votes down changes to SG Golf contract 3-2” in the December 22, 2021 ed. of the News).
SG Golf Management followed that decision by resigning (see “SG Golf Management resigns from management of Devine Golf Course” in the January 19, 2022 ed. of the News).
Following several residents addressing Council to question whether a forensic audit was appropriate or necessary, District 5 Councilwoman Debbie Randall said that Section 20 of the contract states that SG Golf Management will turn over financial records upon expiration or termination of the contract, and that she thought paying another auditor to come in was a waste of money.
The contract is available on the News website at devinenews.com/devine-golf-course-contract/.
“Have all the required documents that were in the contract, have they been submitted?” Pichardo asked.
“No,” City Attorney Tom Cate replied.
“So we don’t have an understanding as to where we stand,” Pichardo said.
She then asked Cate if any of the documents had been submitted and he said yes, but added that it will take time to determine what’s missing.
Following additional discussion, Thompson read a prepared statement claiming the issue was only being discussed “because of personal issues,” criticizing the number of times the golf course has appeared on Council agendas, and noting that Council members are not above the law.
“Therefore I believe that this the audit agenda items should be tabled indefinitely until such time that all City contracts or agreements with third parties are brought up to date and brought in line with financial disclosure obligations found within the SG Golf Management contract, and all City Council members voluntarily submit their own personal finances for public disclosure and audit,” Thompson said. “That way we not only have a legal leg to stand on if things do forth, but we also have a moral leg to stand on not just here before the public in Devine but before God Himself.”
A Pichardo motion to carry out a forensic audit on SG Golf Management’s finances failed for lack of a second.
A motion by Randall and District 1 Councilman Rufino “Flipper” Vega to table the item agenda indefinitely until all of Thompson’s requests were implemented failed 2-3 with dissent from District 3 Councilman David Espinosa, District 4 Councilwoman Kathy Lawler, and Pichardo.
“Wow,” Randall said. “You guys are amazing.”
Lawler pointed out that no one is asking for SG Golf Management’s personal financial information.
“They’re asking for business tax returns,” Lawler said.
“Oh no, they’re asking for personal,” Randall said. “The p and l [profit and loss] of SG. Because they want to know how much money [Grego] is making.”
No personal financial documents are required in the City’s contract with SG Golf Management.
Following brief cross-talk amongst Council, Lawler continued.
“The second thing, we did vote not to do an audit, with the understanding if we felt we needed an audit, it would come back to the table,” Lawler said. “And that’s why I personally voted not to have it then. But since the resignation’s been handed in, I think it’s only fair we do an audit to find out where we stand.
“But everybody always kind of twists things around to make it look like we’re just blowing hot air and not sticking by what we say.”
A Lawler-Pichardo motion to table an audit but return to the possibility if the financial documents submitted by SG Golf Management are not acceptable passed 3-2, with Espinosa voting for the motion and Vega and Randall voting against it.
Golf course management
Dishman said he hadn’t been able to find an attorney to complete paperwork to present to Council regarding taking over day-to-day management of the golf course.
Dishman and Brian Navarro first approached Council about taking over the course’s daily operations on behalf of a limited liability company they are organizing with others during a Special meeting held on Feb. 8 (see “City hears proposals on golf course, city funds in deficit” in the Feb. 16 edition of the News).
“We’re not asking for anything from the City,” Dishman said. “We just want to be able to keep the assets with Devine.”
Dishman said his group had turned in its business application to the state, and that if given the opportunity to run the course, planned to reach out to kids.
“I ran a tournament last year in April, with the community members that had sponsored, raised some money to be able to buy clubs for kids that don’t have the means,” Dishman said. “And they’re more than welcome to use those clubs at any time with no fees.”
He also spoke about a tournament run by Shannon Rangel that provided initiation fees for 25 kids, and said that a similar vision to introduce kids to golf came from SG Golf Management.
“So with that being said, we want to continue that to people to bring their kids up there and have clubs available to them,” Dishman said. “That’s something that is in our consideration. We’re trying to reach out to everybody in the community to make it something valuable for all of us.”
Thompson asked what procedures were being put in place so that Dishman’s group didn’t end up like the Devine Golf Association, the nonprofit organization that folded and turned its assets and liabilities over to the City.
The DGA first went public went its financial problems in November 2017, when board member Jeff Wisenbaker created a GoFundMe fundraiser called “Save Devine Golf Course”. It raised $2,270 of its $50,000 goal.
Also that month, the News published a plea for donations written by board member Richard Malone, and the board (Stanley Ehlinger, Willie Shelton, Blake Ceasar, Mike Smith, Ron Richards, Brent Haass, Jerry Dykowski, Malone, and Wisenbaker) voted 7-2 to turn daily course operations over the Brandon Rackley and Shannon Rackley Rangel’s B&S Golf Management.
In July 2018, then-mayor Bill Herring accounted that Wisenbaker and two other board members informed the City that the DGA could be dissolved at the end of the month, and Rangel informed Council there was not enough money to pay employees after July 30.
Council held a Public Hearing about the course on July 31, 2018, and voted 4-0 to take it over.
Dishman said that businesses go through ups and downs but agreed that planning needed to be done.
“We need to make sure that when there’s something, when it does get handed off to somebody else, that there is some sort of fund for someone else to be able to take over to be successful as well,” Dishman said.
An Espinosa-Pichardo motion to table the matter until Dishman’s group has a proposal to present and to call a Special meeting for it if necessary passed 5-0.
Clubhouse access for Charlie’s Daughter
Jerry Stevens said that First Choice Restaurant Supply sent an email on Feb. 14 requesting permission to deliver and begin assembly of kitchen equipment on Feb. 21, and asked for permission to access the clubhouse in order to install a dishwasher and other equipment prior to First Choice’s arrival.
“There was an agreement that we were going to help SG Management because they had the full course, and we had come to an agreement to where we would open up the restaurant inside the clubhouse,” Stevens said, adding that they had spoken to Dishman’s group about a similar arrangement. “Are there options out there? Absolutely. But I think there’s no reason why we, these two groups, our business and [Dishman’s] business cannot merge to come to some type of agreement for this community.”
Thompson said if Charlie’s Daughter was allowed access to the clubhouse, Council would be entering into a contract with them for use of the restaurant.
“That is basically what basically Council will be doing if we vote to move forwards, and it would include the entire clubhouse at the moment, because that’s the way it is, that’s what we have at the moment, that’s what y’all would have access to,” Thompson said.
Cate said the only thing on the agenda was allowing Charlie’s Daughter access to the clubhouse and the ability to install equipment.
“As we know, we’ve had this equipment on order for quite some time,” Cate said. “We need to get it installed.”
Pichardo asked about other equipment that needed to be installed, and Stevens said that a change order that was supposed to add soda dispensers and lines had not be completed.
“We’re having to get with our Coke supplier to get that brought into that system, into that facility, because the contractor didn’t do their due part,” Stevens said, adding that there is not electric socket where the dishwasher is supposed to be installed. “As far as silverware, plates, anything that we have in storage that we used from our previous business, that is what we’re looking to bring in and get started so that way it’s there ready to go.”
An Espinosa-Randall motion to allow Charlie’s Daughter to install the ice machine, dishwasher, and other equipment passed 5-0.
Golf cart barn
Council then discussed whether to allow around 40 privately-owned golf carts to remain in storage in the course’s golf course barn after SG Golf Management’s final day, or ask the carts’ owners to remove them.
“The problem is that it’s one more thing on City Hall to have to keep more accounting, to open another set of books with the golf course all over again, to make sure people have paid their fees,” Thompson said.
Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez agreed that City Hall is short staffed, noting that one employee is out following surgery, and that another is scheduled to be out soon due to surgery as well.
Thompson added that when the City initially took over the course from the DGA, two golf carts were stolen following a break-in.
“If we have these golf carts there, obviously the liability is on us,” Thompson said.
Espinosa echoed the concern about the City’s lack of manpower and raised the idea of using volunteers to collect the cart barn rental fees.
Stevens said that if Charlie’s Daughter was given a checklist with the names of the private cart owners and what is owed in rental fees each month, they would be willing to collect the money and turn it in to the City.
An Espinosa-Vega motion to allow the privately-owned carts to remain in the cart barn for up to 60 days while the City pursues an arrangement with another management company, pending City Hall receiving a list of who owns the carts and the owners signing a waiver, passed 5-0.
Course usage for Devine ISD golf teams
Concerns had been raised about the Devine High School golf teams’ ability to practice and hold scheduled tournaments at the course following SG Golf Management’s departure.
Lengthy discussion was held between Council, DISD Superintendent Dr. Todd Grandjean, Head Golf Coach Mark Mangold, Course Superintendent Nick Miller, Stevens, and residents in attendance regarding ways to allow the teams access to the course. The solution agreed upon was for volunteers to be at the course to keep an eye on things when it’s in use by the teams. A volunteer sign-up list and schedule will be kept at the DISD Central Office.
An Espinosa-Lawler motion to move forward with the volunteer-based plan to allow the Warhorse and Arabian golf teams to practice and hold tournaments at the course passed 5-0.
By Marly Davis