Yet another ultimatum for Flagler Beach 9-hole golf course
Luckily Groundhog Day is approaching. The Flagler Beach City Commission is doing its best to recreate its recurring drama with Flagler Golf Management, the company that has run the city’s nine-hole Ocean Palms Golf Club on the south end of town since 2015.
On Thursday night, the commission agreed to give the golf management company another 30-day ultimatum to resolve a range of issues, from a lack of financial transparency to issues with the public, and then appear before the commission. to explain herself and prove how she will ensure a more fluid relationship from now on. In other words, repeat the same drills both sides went through in 2018, if with a somewhat different cast of characters, and in 2017. (See: “Flagler Beach’s Golf Course Closed Again, Its Fate Uncertain, As Dispute With City Leads To Impasse” and “Deja vu yet again at the Flagler Beach Golf Course as the city grants yet another probation.”)
The city sought to carry out an audit of the operation last June. “Although they were relatively quick to respond and invite us to do an audit, the records are a problem, have become a problem, and remain a problem,” City Attorney Drew Smith said. “It’s been a trickle of information at best, I think, since June when the first request was made.”
The city has an audit firm. He provided a list of documents he needed to perform the audit. The list was forwarded to Flagler Golf Management, the company that manages the course. The company provided monthly sales tax reports (which it should have provided all along, but did not). It was not enough to carry out the verification. “I won’t speculate on what’s going on,” Smith said, “but it doesn’t look like the books are kept there very carefully.” And so I think that’s certainly a concern for the city manager and I’m sure it’s a concern for all of you.
There are additional concerns, including occasional complaints from the public, Smith said. For now, Smith wanted permission from the commission to conduct further investigations into the golf course to determine whether — and to what extent — the company is not meeting its lease obligations. The company would get a letter outlining the issues and give the company a 30-day window to appear before the city commission and explain what it did to “fix” the issues, “and have this conversation of – come on – you stay there? Are you going to do what the lease says? And did you heal the things that we said you didn’t do? said Smith.
“But at some point we have to push, it seems, because just being nice…”
“Not working,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said.
Smith acknowledged what he described as the “changes” within the company. It was a nice way to refer to the arrest, trial and incarceration of the owner of Flagler Golf Management. Terry McManus was arrested in 2019 for impaired driving and then in 2020 for criminal fraud. He was tried for impaired driving, convicted last June and sent back to prison, and sentenced last October to four years in prison (his third offense in 10 years). The state dropped the fraud charge two weeks ago. Between time served and eligibility for time buy, or early release, after serving 85% of his sentence, McManus could be freed in 34 months.
The golf operation has since been owned and run by his wife, Tiffany McManus, and Zachary Durick, both of Wellington. Terry McManus’ name appeared on the Corporations Division’s annual filings, but his name was removed (and replaced with Durick’s) four days ago.
“I’m desperately trying not to prejudge,” City Manager William Whitson said. “But what I hear and see so far, it concerns me for the public and fiscal responsibility we have to manage this asset properly. Maybe others have thrown this on the road, but I’m not going to. By “others,” Whitson was referring to the late Larry Newsome, his predecessor. The judgment was not entirely fair. Newsom had tangled with Flagler Golf on several occasions and at one point even determined that ending the lease was in order for the same reasons. The commission was set to vote to do just that in January 2018. It was Smith who stopped him – not because he was kicking the street, but because it was a matter of due process for McManus.
McManus in turn pleaded his case again, was put on probation, and again came under fire from Newsom in July for noncompliance. At that time, the commission issued a 30-day ultimatum to McManus to resolve the issues or face a termination of the lease. Soon he got another trial period again. Relations seemed to improve afterwards. (See: “Ocean Palm, Flagler Beach’s 9-hole golf course, finally sees the green all around as disputes fade.”) Then came, in succession, the McManus arrests and the pandemic.
Commissioner Ken Bryan was not part of the commission during the 2018 rounds. His patience with the sound of the management company ran out a while ago. “I think it’s high time we did something about it,” he said. “When I became commissioner a year and five months ago, whatever it was, I read the lease several times. And after that, I spent many times there just to try to find out what was going on. And it was pretty clear that the breach of contract had been repeatedly breached. And I think we’ve just given them so many opportunities to address issues that as elected officials and community representatives, we have a fiduciary responsibility to act sooner rather than later.
There was no dissent within the commission.
Commission President Eric Cooley, in his second three-year term, recalled the problems of 2018 (and 2017) and said those same problems should have been solved years ago. “I would say put a pin in that conversation until they’re here and able to respond,” Smith said.