Neosho Golf Board, City discuss golf course

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

The Neosho City Council and staff held a town hall style forum for members of Neosho’s golf community to discuss issues with the golf course and its management on Apr. 12 in city council chambers.

At the Mar. 16 council meeting, members of the Neosho Golf Association were on hand to voice their concerns with a bill that amended powers and duties of the golf course board which is an advisory board to the city on golf course affairs.

Bill 2021-19 amends the current code and give the golf course committee the power to develop and recommended rules and regulations at any city golf course within confines of existing law, recommend charges and fees for golf course facilities and develop and recommend plans for growth and improvement of city golf courses. 

City staff have been aligning all city boards, not just the golf board, with each other, specifically, the duties of each board.

Bill 2021-19 was tabled at the Mar. 16 meeting and again at the first meeting in April.

At the Mar. 16 meeting, Chairman of the Golf Board Rex Budd spoke to council about the board’s concerns.

 “In less than 12 months,” said Budd at the Mar. 16 meeting. “Through questionable termination or resignation, the City has lost three experienced golf course employees and no qualified replacements are in sight. Sadly, at this time we have zero course operational knowledge on (city) staff. The last few months the golf course hasn’t been included in some very critical personnel decisions.”

Since the Mar. 16 meeting, members of the Neosho Golf Board, city administration and staff have met multiple times to discuss the issues and how they could be solved.

The meeting on Apr. 12 was intended to allow anyone who might want to address the council to do so, while hearing from council on their perspective and what was being done to address the issues that have come to light more since the Mar. 16 meeting.

Mayor Carmin Allen made it clear at the beginning of the Apr. 12 meeting that he had heard the issues over the past two weeks and wanted to hear from the golf community what could be done from the cities side to help solve the issue.

“We’re not always going to like what goes on, everyone makes mistakes,” said Allen. “We have to live with those mistakes and how to correct those mistakes. I figured the best way is, we work together.”

“I’ve heard statements that this council ignored the golf course,” added Allen. “We put over $200,000 into this golf course in the last 18 months. We’re not ignoring it.”

Budd spoke next, thanking council for hearing them, and said he had talked to prior course superintendent Bill Mulkey about solutions as well as getting members of the golf course to volunteer their time to help remedy some of the issues at the course.

Allen then introduced the retired Mulkey, who addressed the council.

“Your parks superintendent is over parks and golf, which I think is great,” said Mulkey. “The thing you do still need to do, is you need a (golf) superintendent. Let (Parks Superintendent Clint Dalbom) be your (golf) director. I would suggest you hire a superintendent and actively list that specifically as a superintendent so you can get qualified candidates that way. It’ll cost you a bit of money, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.”

The jobs currently listed by the city for the golf course are for a green’s supervisor and part time labor.

Joey Howard, a Neosho native and golfer, told council he had golfed in Neosho as a kid after learning from his grandfather and had just gotten back into the sport recently.

“I love golf and what I’ve seen in the past few months is (the course) has deteriorated a little bit,” said Howard addressing council. “I’ve talked about going other places and playing, ultimately I decided to stay and purchased my membership this year. I just wanted to reach out to you all and let you know how much I care about the course and want the best for it. I hope you guys make the right decision in hiring whoever needs to be hired.”

Other’s in attendance that spoke after Howard reiterated Mulkey’s wording on the need to separate the positions of golf director and superintendent.

Gary Elam, one of those that spoke, elaborated on the structure of the management side of the course.

“What I hear from Rex is, you guys are trying build a golf course structure,” said Elam. “You hired a pro shop manager, you’ve hired a grounds manager and now you’re trying to hire a greens manager. I think you’re going the wrong direction. You don’t need to hire all three of those positions. You need a superintendent over everything, and that superintendent is a working superintendent.”

Councilwoman Angela Thomas agreed on the need for a superintendent for the golf course.

“I have not been out to the golf course, if I went out there, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at, I’m not a golfer,” said Thomas. “But it is of my opinion that we need a superintendent that has experience and we need to be advertising for those jobs in the proper places.”

“At this point, because we’ve lost so much with experience out there, we do need an experienced person out there to help pull everyone together,” added Thomas.

The job description was later elaborated upon, with titles and descriptions to be changed from when they were first listed to what they would be listed as in the future.

Allen said the consensus was that a superintendent was needed and if necessary, hire professionals no matter the cost, to come in and address the greens.

Later in the meeting, discussions centered around the hiring process after Mulkey retired and the input from the golf board.

Terry Telford, a former golf board member who sat in on the interviews last year, commented on that process.  

“Last year when we did do the interviews, what we heard in the interviews, Dalbom, (Human Resources Director) Krysti (Muhic) and (Director of Finance) Daphne (Pevahouse) were all in there,” said Telford. “They admitted during those interviews they didn’t really know anything about the course, about golf, or how to operate a functioning golf course. It would he helpful to have people from the (golf) board to sit in on the interviews.”

Privacy issues for the applicants arose on whether members of the golf board should be involved in the hiring process but the discussion between council members and those in attendance agreed that the golf board input would center around advising who would be hired and not be privy to private information of the applicants.

“If we can all agree to be objective in who it is we are discussing and not just choosing a favorable person because they know that person or whatever,” said Muhic later in the meeting. “Let’s make it fair, make it a roundtable (discussion) and find out who’s the best candidate.”

“Because as we all know, we're not all golfers, were not going to deny that,” added Muhic. “But I know my job, my hiring practices and the laws we all learned that not everyone knows. With that, (the golf board) can in turn, tell us about all the golfing stuff we don’t know. We can make a great team.”

The cities legal counsel said that it would be permissible to have the golf board write job and interview descriptions so that those questions could be given to the Human Resources Department to ask in the interviews with the candidates.

Recent meetings between the city and golf board have been more fruitful as far as starting conversations to resolve the issues posed at the Mar. 16 meeting.

Clemons said an Apr. 8 golf board meeting involving Dalbom had been the most productive thus far with Thomas adding that communication from both sides had room for improvement.

Councilman Tyler DeWitt asked Mulkey if the best course for a superintendent would be someone with a turf management degree, to which Mulkey agreed.

Another question DeWitt posed to Dalbom was how much it would hinder the parks operations if they were to have one parks worker allocate some hours to working at the golf course throughout a given week.

“If you take from one, you’re going to cripple that,” responded Dalbom. “The parks have a good staff, that staff is there for a reason because its what it takes. Granted, the golf course has areas that need more frequent maintenance. But the parks department mows about three or four times as much as what’s out at the golf course. Occasionally pulling someone out there, we could do, but for the season, it just wouldn’t work.”

The consensus was that with the value of the greens and the money that would be lost if they were allowed to deteriorate even more, hiring a full time or a few part time employees would be necessary to save them.

“With the golf course being profitable, it constitutes that we should maybe allocate more of that money, cut our profits a little bit and hire a person or two people or however many it takes,” said DeWitt. “I think our approach needs to be to find a superintendent, they need to have turf management background if not a degree. We need to throw bodies at this, we need to get this problem solved. I don’t want to lose these greens.”

At the end of the hour and a half meeting, Budd thanked the council for allowing the golfers to come and give input. With an error in the bill read at the Apr. 12 meeting, it was tabled until the next council meeting.