The city is in search of a new tenant at the Smithville Golf Course and Swimming Pool.
The Smithville Aldermen voted Monday night 3 to 2 to accept bids on leasing the facility since the current tenant, Jimmy Lewis, has given his 30 day notice that he is giving up his lease and will be vacating the premises as of August 8th. However, the city will ask Lewis to stay on beyond August 8th rent free for the next month until the transition is made, possibly by the first of September.
Aldermen Tonya Sullivan, Willie Thomas, and Jerry Hutchins Sr. voted to accept bids. Aldermen Steve White and Cecil Burger voted no.
Alderman White said he preferred to hire someone to run the golf course and swimming pool temporarily for sixty days until the council had more time to do some thorough research on the city's options. White made a motion to that effect, but it died for the lack of a second. "I feel like we need to find somebody to operate the course just temporarily for possibly 60 days to give us time to research it a lot better and see what our options are. I'd like to consider both sides of it, either rebidding or running it ourselves. I think we need time to make that decision wisely and not just jump into it."
The plan is for the city to advertise for bids next week, open bids on August 18th, and make the transition by the first of September.
Mayor Taft Hendrixson said he and Alderman White recently visited the Old Fort Golf Course in Murfreesboro and spoke with the manager there on how that facility is operated. "That is a big 18 hole course but they lease from the V.A. their 9 hole course, which is basically the size of ours. They do not use carts, it's all walk. I think, in their budget for next year, it's about $225,000 to $230,000 to operate that 9 hole course and they're projecting $160,000 in greens fees from that 9 hole course."
Alderman Sullivan suggested that the mayor and alderman White may have broken the spirit of the law regarding open government by making that visit concerning city business without the knowledge of the other aldermen. Sullivan also asked the mayor and alderman White if meetings had been held with the Poss's about taking over the golf course. "I'm not positive why there was a study done. There wasn't a special called meeting to ask that a committee be formed. You and Mr. White just took it upon yourselves to go on and check something else out and I understand there's been meetings with the Poss's as well. We have open government in place and this board ought to be apprised of what's going on. This is one board and we would like to have the same consideration as you (mayor) give to other board members and if there are going to be decisions made about this city's business, we want to be invited. We want it to be open."
Mayor Hendrixson said he and White were only collecting information during their visit to Murfreesboro and broke no laws. "I just made a trip over there. I called the man and asked him about it. Steve (White) was in here one day and he said if you're going, I'll go with you. Nothing was done. We just talked to the man. There was no decisions made and no deliberation on anything. I'll be glad to go with anyone of you and talk with the man again. We went to collect information only and that is not against the law. If I go back I'll invite every board member to go if they want to go."
Both Mayor Hendrixson and Alderman White also added that no such meeting ever took place with the Poss's.
Following the meeting, Alderman Sullivan sent WJLE an email to issue a brief statement about her comments referring to the Poss's. In the statement, Sullivan said " In regard to open government, I made a statement that the mayor had met with Mr. Poss about taking over the golf course. I would like to formally apologize for the misinformation. The Poss's stopped me after the meeting and reported that the meeting did not happen."
Jackie Rigsby, a former alderman and a chartered member of the golf course, addressed the mayor and aldermen with his concerns about the future of the facility. "I would sincerely hope that you people realize the importance that this golf course plays in this community and to think about who you might be going to put in there. Anybody is not going to be able to go in there and do the job that's been done. Since I've been at the golf course, I've never seen it in as good a shape as it is today. The greens are good. The fairways are in good shape as we've had a good season for it. I would hate to see somebody go in there and not know what they're doing and lose those greens. We lost the greens in the early 70's. It cost over $100,000 just at that time to straighten the greens out. You say there are only two options (for the city to rebid the lease or take over the operation) but it's my understanding that there is another option. You could lower the rent. It's my understanding that Jimmy Lewis is willing to stay if the rent is lowered to where he can make a little money. I know the city has been collecting a lot of money off of this (golf course) and that's good. But when a person is losing money they just can't keep staying. You don't make any money off the other parks. It's all spent. You're not making anything off of them. So if you're making anything off of this, you're still in better shape than you would be to let it go out and be ruined."