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Monday, August 26, 2013

Longshore Golf: Whether to Outsource Not the Question

To the Editor:

A week ago, the Parks and Recreation Commission met jointly with the Golf Advisory Committee to decide a single issue: whether to enter into serious negotiation to outsource maintenance of our Longshore golf course.  I attended this meeting to try to answer this question: “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”

In the business world, we define a problem, then look at all the ways we might solve it or live with it, consider the cost/benefit of the proposed courses of action, and decide.  But here, we Westporters are asked to choose sides on the issue of whether to outsource the maintenance of our golf course without the benefit of knowing exactly what is the problem that we’re trying to solve.

Certainly, the poor condition of Longshore makes it a public embarrassment.  Outsourcing is a possible solution.  But what’s the problem?

The discussion at the joint meeting was centered on the single topic for the evening: yes or no, basically, on the issue of “to outsource, or not to outsource”. Defining the problem to be solved was not part of the discussion.  However, from the presentations, and from the question/answer session, I gleaned the following non-exhaustive list of possible parts of the problem (potentially) to be solved by outsourcing.

First, audience members pointed out that other nearby community courses such as H. Smith Richardson seem to run acceptably well, but Longshore doesn’t. Part of the problem, I surmised, is that Longshore may not fit well into the political and operational structure of our town.  Are the golf course’s hands tied when it comes to making choices for its own welfare?  Is the revenue flow structured to give the course the money it needs to maintain and improve itself?  Let’s study other community golf courses and compare to ours.

Second, it seems pretty obvious even to the casual listener that years of built up union work rules have hobbled our course’s ability to maintain itself.  If we do a poor job of caring for our course during non-playing hours, let’s work to improve the rules.

Third, an ineffective reporting structure has the golf course superintendent reporting to someone who knows nothing about the maintenance of golf courses.

And fourth, the former golf course superintendent may have made suboptimal choices, say, fertilizing or watering, in caring for the course.  We can study that, too.

There may be other parts of the problem, but the bottom line is that outsourcing is an easy cop out to avoid fixing what’s really wrong.

Sure, go ahead and outsource the maintenance if it doesn’t cost too much.  We’re doing a lousy job ourselves. But without studying and fixing the real problem we’ll be at the mercy of outside firms forever. We need a study of what went wrong.  Then propose a set of alternatives to improve the situation. 

The real question is: “Do we as a community have the will to do what it takes to support a public golf course, properly over the long term? We’ll have a better community if we do. Then we can start in on other matters of community will on issues above those of what the Libertarians call the “common good” – things like police and fire protection, and in-town roads – that we have to have if we’re all going to live together.

We as a community have long since committed to support issues above and beyond the most basic “common good”, such as public education for children, whether individuals in our community have children, or not. So, for example: “Do we as a community have the will to make and enforce a long term plan for how our community will look and feel?” “Do we as a community have the will to build sidewalks so our senior citizens can get around?” “Do we as a community have the will to bury our increasing and increasingly burdensome overhead cables?”

I will run the golf course study, if asked.

Richard Jaffe
Westport

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Posted 08/26/13 at 07:05 PM  Permalink



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