Flagler Beach sets the golf course ultimatum

The government of Flagler Beach has issued a scathing letter advising Flagler Golf Management, the company that has run the nine-hole Ocean Palms golf course on the south end of town for seven years, that it is once again in default of its lease, and has 30 days to resolve the issues. The city will break the lease if not satisfied after 30 days.

The problems this time, as the city sees and experiences them: insufficient or meaningless record keeping. Failing to comply with an audit request. Failure to operate the restaurant, although keeping the restaurant open is an explicit requirement of the lease. Poor maintenance to the point of making it “an annoyance” for the city. And allegations of illegalities such as staffing the operation with volunteers, which would violate labor laws, trespassing on a 2.9-acre ledge of property the city does not own in the rectangle of the course and the unaccounted use of federal covid aid.

This is not a surprising development. The relationship between Flagler Golf Management and the city has been tolerable at best and often bordered on a local cold war, with Flagler Beach having to squeeze through corporate iron curtains to obtain records and accounts over time. years. On the other hand, after the grounds lay fallow and ugly with neglect and overgrowth for a decade, much to the chagrin of the dozens of residences surrounding it, the company has kept the greens relatively busy, albeit intermittently. .

It may not be a surprising development, but City Manager William Whitson’s letter is by far the most consistently documented and harshly worded list of grievances.

Some members of the Flagler Beach City Commission have been very vocal in their criticism of the company, almost wanting to get it over with. Others have been more forgiving. Whitson discusses the letter at the commission meeting tonight, alongside Drew Smith, the city attorney who has dealt with Flagler Beach Management since day one.

The first letter that informed Flagler Golf Management that it was in default of its lease with the Flagler Beach government in 2017 was just over a page long, was written by Smith and addressed to Terry McManus, the owner of the company, listing a series of violations in an unbiased manner. , almost neutral tone. McManus “healed” the breaches in time. The arrangement, in place since 2015, resumed – intermittently, problematically, but has continued ever since.

The second default letter was released on February 3. It is six pages. He is addressed to “To Whom It May Concern”, itself an indication of how the relationship between the golf club and the city has become frayed and vague: McManus is in prison, serving a four-year sentence for driving impaired (jailed because it was his third in 10 years). Whitson wrote the letter this time, adopting a tone that was both more personal and more accusatory.

It deals with lease violations section by lease section, with examples, quotes from correspondence, uses words like “disappointingly”, “extremely concerning” and allusions to “a complete waste of everyone’s time”, and it triggers recurring verbal indictments: “Failing to keep proper financial records shows complete disregard for your obligations to the City, to the community you serve, and, frankly, to your own business. “City staff shouldn’t have to take time off from their daily duties and we certainly shouldn’t have to pay the city attorney to hunt you down for records you have a duty to provide.”

The word “failure” appears six times on six pages. The language borders on indignation: “The state of the property is embarrassing. Simple tasks like cleaning up litter and dead vegetation are not done. The overall look reflects a business owner who is not proud of being an owner. This community deserves better when it comes to the conditions of public ownership and the lease demands better. Whitson, citing a section of the lease, wrote that he “forbids you to let the course become an embarrassment to the town. Your inattention to the property has done just that.

The city has requested an audit of the golf course operations in July. The company has yet to comply, although in December the company admitted having most of the records allowing for an audit, only for city auditors to discover over the next few weeks that the records provided were insufficient. .

Why the audit? The city does not explicitly say it suspects wrongdoing, but almost goes that route toward the end of the letter: “Finally, in reviewing the financial records that have been provided to the city, I note that Flagler Golf Management, LLC received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The Paycheck Protection Program was part of the covid-relief bill of 2020, allowing businesses to borrow money to pay employees. “While there was no wrongdoing in the receipt of these funds, the records received by the City thus far also do not allow us to guarantee that these products were intended for the authorized purposes. The City has no role in enforcing the Paycheck Protection Program, but I must advise you that if we find any reason to question the use of these funds or other grants or loans received, I believe it is my duty to report these concerns to the appropriate authorities. government agencies.

Whitson, in his introduction, called himself “disappointed” to write the letter. He attached correspondence between the city and the company or its attorney, Adam Franzen of Fort Lauderdale. The exchanges between Smith and Franzen are friendlier than Whitson’s letter “To Whom It May Concern”, but also more devious and fragmentary, never getting to the heart of the matter no matter how deeply Smith probed.

Legal probity is a facade, of course: an indication of the more adversarial nature of the relationship was evident in Franzen’s July 21 letter to Whitson from Tiffany McManus, wife of Terry McManus and now president of Flagler Golf Management, who stated “This letter is to inform you that all future letters. notices, etc., should be mailed to my attorney, Adam Franzen,” etc. In other words, McManus, who operates the course a few dozen blocks from Whitson’s office, required that all communications be routed through a legal pipeline 250 miles south. That’s why, when asked today if he had a working relationship with McManus, Whitson said he had none and had ‘never met the lady’.

Although the letter gives Flagler Golf Management 30 days to respond to inquiries from the date the letter was issued, February 1. 4, making March 2 the deadline, unless it’s only business days — Whitson scheduled a hearing in March for the company to present and argue its case before the City Commission.

“If you disagree with my decision that any of the above is a default under the lease, you may present it to the City Board at the hearing,” Whitson wrote. “If you believe you have remedied all of the defects described in this letter, you may present that evidence to the City Board at the hearing. Ultimately, the City Board must make the final decision as to how to remedy the defect. I believe that given the history of the transaction and the nature of certain defects, the Municipal Board has the right under the lease to terminate the lease and I encourage you to come to this hearing prepared to explain why they shouldn’t.Provided you have a sincere desire to continue operating the golf course, I hope you’ll come prepared to come up with a plan to ensure this conversation never happens again.

This last happened in November 2017, when a similar audience sold out. The March 10 hearing is unlikely to do so, as locals have long been fed up with the boredom of the plot.

The default letter to Flagler Golf Management and associated documents (2022):

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