By LIZ BUTTON
Much hangs in the balance when it comes to this year’s election to the position of Rye Golf Club commissioner, the first such election since last year’s revelation of an alleged long-running financial scandal involving the club’s former manager.
All seven candidates running for three golf club commissioner seats this year have the same basic platform: convincing the membership that his or her tenure would bring about a fresh start for the club. This year’s candidates are Akhil Kumar, Barry McGowan, current commissioner Angela Sposato, current chairman John Duffy, Leon Sculti, Bob DiMaggio and Mack Cunningham, a former city councilman.
A new chairman is determined by commission members after the election.
The three seats up for election are Duffy’s, Sposato’s and that of Frank Adimari, who is not seeking re-election.
While Sposato did not win on her first attempt, when chairman Rich Verille stepped down in October, Duffy was appointed chairman and Sposato took the vacant space on the commission.
Verille’s term was up at the end of this year so Sposato must run this year to earn a term of her own.
One of the major issues being debated within golf circles is the new governance proposal Republican Mayor Douglas French presented at the Aug. 5 City Council meeting. The proposal was devised after a series of summer workshops that gleaned input from club members, the commission, city staff, council members and the general public.
The purpose of the new governance proposal is to implement checks and balances to centralize city financial operations.
Over a six year period, club members lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of membership dues, which former club manager Scott Yandrasevich allegedly stole through shell staffing companies he created.
The proposal dictates that commissioners will serve in an advisory capacity and share day-to-day oversight of operations in conjunction with the city manager, while reporting to the City Council on behalf of the members of the club.
While the commission would be involved with the city manager in reviewing contracts and interviewing management personnel, ultimately, decision-making power will still lie with the city manager, although the manager has the option to appeal to the City Council for input.
But there is one aspect of the plan some club members are having trouble accepting, and candidates are capitalizing on this loaded issue, which tends to elicit an emotional response.
Currently, the club’s current charter provides that nine commissioners shall be elected by the membership, but the new proposal dictates that the mayor would appoint, with council confirmation, three new commissioners: one member of the City Council to act as liaison to the rest of the council; one appointment from the city’s own Finance Advisory Committee; and one additional appointment from the community.
According to Nominating Committee chairman T.J. Hanson, there is consensus among golf club members that they could stomach the three new positions, but not if the additional commissioners were given voting authority.
And given statements submitted to the Rye Golf Club Commission nominating committee, the majority of candidates running for commissioner take issue with this aspect as well, arguing that votes from the three mayor-appointed positions would dilute the commission’s member-elected authority.
“The community would have issue with the right to vote because the commission is elected by those who pay dues to the club,” Hanson said.
Since the commission cannot legally make decisions on behalf of the club, members of the City Council, bolstered by the mayor’s appointees, will provide the oversight needed to keep operations above board, French said, since the city now has a stake in it.
“How can [the city council] have oversight of the commission when they have no input on who is on the commission?” French said.
However, Republican Councilman Joe Sack, who is running for mayor, said the problem with the golf commission is not the mode of governance, but that the right people are not in the key positions of power in the city.
“No one is saying that the golf commission should run the golf club as long as we have a city manager form of government. But the city manager, or someone new, is going to have to make sure the commission is involved in all key decisions that are being made there,” Sack said.
As an example, Sack used an incident this summer involving pool company American Leisure with which the club contracted in May. Choosing a pool company was a rushed process that did not involve commission members to a suitable extent, Sack said, which illustrates what amounts to a failure of cooperation between the commission and city manager.
The incident ended in what has turned into another major campaign talking point: the city fired the company for poor performance before the end of the season and hired a second company‑which charged more‑to finish out the term.
These are debacles the governance proposal is designed to prevent by fostering such cooperation, according to French.
But, Sack said, cooperation and communication will be hard-won between the commission and the administration.
Voting starts on Aug. 29, the day after a Meet the Candidates forum, and ends Sept. 8. The deadline for voting is earlier this year than in the past.
While the city clerk’s office used to handle counting the votes, this year, the voting will be done online, according to City Clerk Dawn Nodarse, unless the voter chooses to use the computer kiosk set up at the golf club.
In 2011, a portion of the ballots had to be thrown out because envelopes came to the office stuffed with multiple ballots, disqualifying a portion of the count.