Taxpayer-Funded Golf Tournament Canceled
DENVER (CBS4)– The Colorado Municipal League, a trade organization that represents 265 cities and towns across the state, will cancel its annual golf tournament after a CBS4 Investigation found many elected officials and city administrators have been billing taxpayers for their pricey greens fees, hotel rooms and other optional expenses connected to a golf tournament held in connection with the CML’s yearly conference.
“I think we’d be better served not to have it,” said Sam Mamet, the Colorado Municipal League executive director.
Mamet said the CML has held the golf tournament in conjunction with its annual June conference for roughly 20 years. But he said he wasn’t aware many of the participants- elected city council representatives, city managers, city staff and other public officials- were billing taxpayers for their rounds of golf, until the CBS4 Investigation.
“I’m disappointed that public funds are used for this kind of thing,” said Mamet.
CBS4 reviewed hundreds of pages of expense reports from towns and municipalities after this year’s CML conference, which was held in Vail from June 21 through June 24. About 650 municipal leaders attended the event.
The first event on the agenda was an optional “scramble” golf tournament that was held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 21 on Vail’s scenic town golf course. Fees for playing were $105 per person. About 100 city officials, administrators and vendors took part. The first conference sessions did not take place until later that afternoon at 2 p.m.
Central City City manager Alan Lanning had taxpayers pay for his round of golf, saying it was ‘absolutely’ a business function.
Watch Part 2 of this CBS4 investigation on the taxpayer-funded conference held in resort towns in the video below:
“It’s an opportunity for us to network with other managers throughout the state in an informal setting and learn things about what we do. I learn things on the golf course I would never learn otherwise like how to deal with elected officials, grants, all sorts of things,” said Lanning.
Lanning, who makes $112,000 a year, said taxpayers have always paid for him to play golf at the CML conference, dating back years to when he was city manager for Steamboat Springs.
Lanning suggested taxpayer funded golf was a non- issue.
“Probably a slow news day, huh?” said Lanning, when asked why Central City taxpayers were funding his golf outing.
“Maybe you should try a bigger picture,” he suggested.
While Lanning said the golf allowed him to network with other city managers, CBS4 learned Lanning’s foursome consisted of him, Central City’s operations manager, an outside vendor and Central City alderman Bob Giancola.
Lanning did not play with other city managers. Alderman Giancola initially defended having taxpayers pick up his golf costs.
“When you are away from council and city hall it’s easier to talk. I took it as part of the networking with my fellow council people,” said Giancola.
But in the middle of the interview, Giancola reversed course saying, “I will reimburse the city for that expense.”
Several days later, Giancola did repay Central City $105 for his greens fees at the CML tourney.
Not so for Arvada City Councilman Don Allard. The CBS4 probe found Allard had Arvada taxpayers pay for his $105 round of golf, his $159 Vail hotel room the night before so he could make his 8 a.m. tee time, a $21 valet parking charge the night before the tournament, and a $44. 02 dinner the evening before the tournament and conference began.
When asked why Arvada taxpayers should pay for him to play in the optional tournament, Allard responded, “It’s part of the program.”
Asked what the benefit is to Arvada taxpayers, Allard said, “I can’t answer that. Probably nothing.”
Allard called the golf fees “questionable.”
Susan Medina, a spokesperson for the City of Arvada, said because of what the CBS4 Investigation revealed, “Arvada is currently reviewing our travel policy and… will make changes in the next few weeks.”
Medina said new policies will be “more stringent in nature.”
The Town of Limon spent an estimated $1,200 dollars so its Mayor and three trustees could stay in Vail the night before the tournament and play golf the next morning. That was the cumulative cost of the extra hotel rooms and four rounds of golf.
Limon town manager Dave Stone said the golf tournament was, “A valuable opportunity to network with colleagues from other communities. It also provides an incentive for them to take personal time and spend some of their own money to attend the conference in order to improve their leadership skills and expand their knowledge of civic issues.”
The Limon attendees paid their own mileage and meals.
Pueblo City Councilman Larry Atencio- who sits on the Colorado Municipal League board of directors- arrived the day before the golf tournament and conference, had Pueblo taxpayers pay for his hotel room, resort fee, $105 round of golf, a $58.95 dinner the night before, and per diem breakfast the day of the golf tournament.
“Networking is the biggest benefit,” said Atencio. “In between putts you talk about different things. Something usually comes out of it,” he said.
Matt Magley, town manager for Superior, put his golf charges on his town credit card in April when he registered for the conference. When CBS4 requested his CML expense records five months later, Magley immediately reimbursed the town for his $105 golf charges.
“It was just a simple oversight on my part,” said Magley. “I put it on my credit card and forgot to reimburse the town. Once it was brought to my attention I paid the town the next day.”
Magley said he had “alot going on.”
Taxpayers in Superior still paid $105 for the assistant town manager’s greens fees at the tournament. Magley says a conflict prevented the employee from making the tournament so the town ended up paying for nothing.
Devin Granbery, a former employee of the town of Superior, who is now Town Manager for Dillon, also reimbursed $105 in greens fees five months after the tournament and immediately after CBS4 requested golf records. He was part of Magley’s foursome and the Town of Superior had paid his golf costs.
While many government officials saw no problem with sticking the public with their golf fees, many others used their own money to pay for golf.
Elected officials from Grand Lake played in the tournament but paid their own golf fees.
“The golf tournament and fun run are really just a benefit to the participant, not to the Town or citizens at large,” said Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale. “So, while we’ve traditionally elected to play in the golf tournament, it has always been the practice of Grand Lake that each participant pays their own way.”
Ray Beck, Craig city councilman, paid for his $105 round of golf himself.
“I didn’t think it was right of me to spend taxpayer money on a golf tournament. It was more for me,” said Beck.
He said he has always paid for the tournament out of his own pocket. However Beck did bill taxpayers for his $159 hotel room the night before the tournament, which allowed him to drive 131 miles from Craig to Vail, spend the night, then make his early morning tee time.
Asked about having Craig taxpayers pick up that expense, Beck said, ”I dont have a good answer for that.”
Lisa White, municipal services manager for the CML, told CBS4, “It is safe to say we will not be having the golf tournament in the future.”
Mamet, the CML executive director, roundly criticized the public officials who attended and stuck taxpayers with their golf costs.
“It’s just not an appropriate expenditure of public funds to do that,” he said.
Asked if it was bad judgment to charge taxpayers for rounds of golf, Mamet said “yes.”
In noting the golf tournament would now be eliminated from the CML summer conference agenda, Mamet said, “If this detracts from the seriousness of the conference, I don’t want the headache anymore.”
The 2012 conference will be held in Breckenridge.