So... today we learn that after months of Creekside advocates moaning and groaning that the golf club absolutely needs a $60,000 irrigation water rate reduction or it will go out of business, thanks to good reporting by the Statesman Journal's Tracy Loew we know this isn't true.
Creekside Golf Club’s owners have released a statement saying they will not close the business after all.
"We want to reassure the membership that our intentions are not to close Creekside Golf Club and we would like to put that concern to rest," owners Terry Kelly and Larry Tokarski wrote.
Since April, the owners have been adamant that, without a reduction in their city water bill, they would close the course and develop the property into housing.
As recently as Monday, club manager Danny Moore told the Salem City Council that a proposed irrigator rate decrease was the only thing that would keep the business going.
But that testimony was incorrect, a club member committee now says.
Obviously there's a lot of dysfunction in the Creekside Golf Club. When the owners say the manager doesn't know what he's talking about, pretty clearly this business is struggling to find its way.
But what I find much more interesting is how the Creekside debacle points to longstanding dysfunction in Salem's City Hall, where a conservative Mayor and her right-wing City Council majority have been demonstrating their incompetence in running the City of Salem.
(Improvement should be coming in 2017, after voters elected three progressive councilors who take office in January. Unfortunately, Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett is a major contributor to the current dysfunction, so he and the four right-wingers who will remain on the 9-member City Council can continue to control it.)
Here's my takeaways on the larger implications of what I like to call the "IrriGate" scandal. My numerous posts on this subject can be found here.
When special interests in this town whistle, City officials come running. With their tongues hanging out, because the Chamber of Commerce's Create Jobs PAC, along with other special interests, have been the major contributors to the campaigns of Mayor Peterson, Mayor-elect Bennett, and the right-wing city councilors.
Larry Tokarski, President of Mountain West Investment and a co-owner of the Creekside Golf Club, is a very rich guy. A $60,000 water rate irrigation reduction must be spare change to him. But still, he wanted it, and the usual gang of City officials jumped to attention.
Why? Well, just follow the money.
And pay attention to the ethics complaint filed against Councilor Steve McCoid, who lives at Creekside and is a golf course member. He came up with the idea to give the golf course a $60,000 water rate reduction by lowering the rate for all irrigators and saddling regular water users with a $600,000 rate increase.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is reviewing a complaint filed against Salem City Councilor Steve McCoid over his involvement in a deal to reduce Creekside Golf Club’s water bill.
McCoid is a member of the golf club, which has said it will close if it doesn’t get a rate reduction. And he owns a home in nearby Creekside Estates, where owners worry that property values would plummet if the course closes.
An outmoded crony capitalism philosophy rules at City Hall. The obvious question about the whole Creekside Golf Club water rate weirdness is "Why the heck should the City of Salem bail out a struggling private golf course?"
Many courses across the country are closing because fewer people are golfing. Yet the first reaction of Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett was to say:
“It’s not unusual to try to save or to create 50 jobs in this town forgiving taxes for years on end, for doing a whole variety of fiscal gymnastics to get them in,” said City Councilor Chuck Bennett, a committee member. “I’m not sure why in the case of a business like this we wouldn’t do the same kind of thing relative to this cost.”
Well, Chuck, the answer is that giving tax breaks and other subsidies to companies almost always is a really dumb thing to do. Urban planning expert Chuck Marohn spoke about this during his recent talk in Salem.
Paying someone to pretend to love you isn't going to produce a good longterm relationship. Neither is giving subsidies to businesses in a similar form of governmental prostitution.
It's decidedly strange that the so-called conservatives currently in charge at City Hall are so dismissive of free market capitalism. I'm confident they decry the federal government picking "winners and losers," but they're totally on board with the City of Salem doling out subsidies to chosen businesses.
Especially those who are big contributors to their election campaigns.
High-ranking city officials rarely think carefully or ask good questions. Having closely watched Salem's Mayor and City Council for the past three years or so, I've been struck by how poorly important issues are analyzed, delved into, discussed, debated.
Groupthink rules at City Hall.
Unanimity and complete consensus is valued over seeking out the truth and finding the wisest course of action. Questioning is viewed as an attack, or "bomb throwing." Pointing out factual errors is met with heads-in-the-sand denial. Skepticism about a poorly thought-out policy is dismissed as negativism.
In this Creekside Golf Club example, why didn't the Mayor, city councilors, and high-ranking city staff (such as City Manager Steve Powers and Public Works Director Peter Fernandez) ever wonder...
(1) How a $60,000 annual water rate reduction could be so crucial to saving a golf course with 50 jobs?
Let's assume very conservatively that each job costs Creekside $40,000: 50 X $40,000 is $2 million. Is a multimillion dollar business going to sink or swim over the long haul because of a $60,000 reduction in an annual expense? Plus, the golf course manager had said that the Creekside already was laying off several staff, so the business already must have cut expenses on its own by more than $60,000.
But from what I can tell, nobody at the City of Salem ever asked these obvious questions.
(2) Why is it supposedly so important to keep the Creekside Golf Club open?
When he wasn't urging a subsidy to Creekside to save those 50 jobs, Mayor-elect Bennett liked to talk about the need to preserve the golf course open space so storm runoff caused by Tokarski turning the land into a pavement-filled subdivision wouldn't flood other parts of Salem.
Again, poor thinking.
City planners don't have to approve land use actions that aren't in the public interest. They can put conditions on a new subdivision, such as requiring stormwater runoff to be within certain bounds, and handled in certain ways. Bennett made it sound like the City of Salem was helpless to stop the owners of the golf course from doing whatever they wanted if they decided to turn it into a dense subdivision.
But again, from what I can tell, nobody at the City of Salem considered how untrue this was.