By LIZ BUTTON
The city’s plan to hire a new food and beverage operator for its Whitby Castle facility has led to friction between the Rye City Council and Rye Golf Club Commission with golf season nearing full swing. The divide has reached such width the commission recently hired its own consultant to advise it as the search nears a conclusion.
Meanwhile, the RFP Review Committee has not used its original consultant, Steve Zagor & Associates, since the request for proposals it helped draft to operate the castle went out, according to Republican Mayor Joe Sack.
At its March 20 meeting, the golf commission requested City Manager Scott Pickup seek a new food and beverage consultant due to concerns with the process as conducted by the RFP committee—a group comprised of members of the golf commission, the City Council and the club’s strategic committee.
Rye Golf Club Commission Chairman Mack Cunningham said the commission felt at the time it lacked the resources to truly participate in the discussion and do its own due diligence, in part because newly hired golf club general manager Jim Buonaiuto had not yet started work.
“At that point, we did not get an agreement with the council,” Cunningham, a former city councilman, said, “so [commission members] basically drew a line in the sand and said we’re going to be part of that discussion.”
Sack said he disagrees with the idea of hiring another consultant. He said, he is of the opinion that enough is enough; hiring one more consultant is not going to make the process any smoother or go more quickly at this point.
Cunningham said hiring a second consultant constitutes a small difference in opinion on the appropriate approach to this end goal between the commission and other RFP committee members, including the mayor.
The commission voted to authorize the city manager to bring back Denehy Club Thinking Partners, which it previously used during its general manager search over the winter.
The last contract was signed with Denehy in November for a cost of up to $15,000.
This was done at the same time the city hired its first consultant, Zagor.
City officials would not give a reason why Zagor, after taking an upfront payment of $2,000, only submitted one invoice to the city on Jan. 30.
According to a source with knowledge of the Whitby RFP process, Zagor didn’t conduct any work for the city after early January.
As commission members grew increasingly frustrated with the way the process was going, the City Council was making moves of its own.
At its Feb. 5 meeting, the council voted to hire Manhattan-based attorney Jack Gordon at an hourly rate of $550. Sack said the move was made because the city sought an attorney who specializes in restaurant leases to assist in the process. More than two months later, Gordon remains in the city’s employ.
But according to a source, Gordon was brought in to help broker a deal to contract out the castle operations, something that never came to fruition.
The golf commission decided it wanted Pickup to find a separate consulting company that would “search outside of the legal component,” represented by Gordon, Cunningham said.
While the commission voted to exert its authority to designate its own funds for a club-related purpose, it is purely an advisory board. The city manager is the only official who has the ability to sign-off on a contract.
According to a new rider on Denehy Club Thinking Partners’ contract, the cost to hire the company to retain a broader range of services would not exceed $3,800 from the golf club budget, Cunningham said.
The commission also announced at the March 20 meeting it had chosen to recommend the City Council hire Harrison-based Powell’s for a one-year contract to run only the snack bar, so there would be a vendor in place to run the poolside café and roaming snack vendor cart for the needs of early season golfers.
Going forward, Sack said by “bifurcating the [proposal review] process” last month when it authorized Pickup to hire Powell’s, the city was able to buy some more time to choose a new company to handle the catering and restaurant side at Whitby Castle.
Leon Sculti, a golf club commissioner and member of the RFP committee, told the Review there was no need for an RFP committee in the first place. The golf commission could have easily vetted proposals and passed its recommendation on to the council, just as the commission had done, with Denehy’s help, in the search for a general manager back in March, he said. These meetings ultimately resulted in the city hiring Jim Buonaiuto, who began work on April 14.
“If you follow the process and the chain of command in place, then you didn’t need the RFP committee,” Sculti said. “Everything is in place…we could have gotten this done.”
Sack said, ultimately, the City Council is the only entity that can make the decision to vote to a hire a new vendor. The golf commission may not like it, but that is the way it is, Sack said.
“Perhaps that is what has caused some of the tension, but that’s the reality,” he said.
Sack said many different opinions have contributed to a slower process than anticipated and have made the review committee somewhat unwieldy due to the many different personalities and constituencies involved.
“I’ve included as many people as reasonably possible in the process and I think that has contributed somewhat to the process taking a little bit longer than we had initially anticipated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Sack said.
Time had slipped by quickly with little progress in the process as vendor choices have gradually been eliminated. In order to fast-track the process, Sack said he decided to narrow down the RFP committee to a four-person group: Pickup, himself, Cunningham and RFP Review Committee Chairman Peter Marshall, who also serves as chairman of the golf club’s strategic committee, which was highly involved in drafting the original request for proposals issued in December 2013.
The new four-person subset of the main RFP committee had one meeting in March and now communicates by phone and email to discuss aspects of the impending decision, Cunningham said.
The full RFP Review Committee, which first met in January, now aims to come before the City Council at its April 23 meeting with a formal recommendation for one of six original proposals received by Rye officials to run the castle.
The golf commission’s next meeting, originally set for April 24, has been rescheduled to April 22 to accommodate this timetable.