Par For the Course [Updated]
Smoking while golfing kept controversy putting along
By Wells Dunbar, 4:35PM, Tue. Dec. 20, 2011
Last week, City Council gave final approval to a ban on smoking in city parks, basically excluding golf courses. But a comedy of errors lead up to the item’s passage, encompassing philosophical questions of what it means to golf, the shadowy consortium of the Golf Advisory Board, and a brush with Open Meetings Act requirements – far from a hole in one.
[UPDATE: Council Member Tovo offers a correction: "I did not request that the Parks and Recreation staff conduct a poll of advisory group members nor was I involved in the process (though PARD staff did let my policy adviser know that they were soliciting input)." Blog now changed to reflect the above. Additional quotes from PARD division manager Kevin Gomillion and city attorney Karen Kennard also included.]
The ban and its exemption passed unanimously, and you’d think such legislation would be relatively straightforward. But as last week’s wrangling over the item proved, nothing’s ever quite that easy. (Don’t even get me started on the hour council spent discussing garbage disposals.)
Seeking further input on the golf exemption as drafted by Kathie Tovo – permitting smoking during an actual game, on the greens between the 1st and 18th hole – Parks and Recreation Department staff approached the members of the Golf Advisory Group for feedback.
This didn’t sit well with Lee Leffingwell, who’d previously supported a blanket exemption on golf courses, period. “I'm concerned about the matter of the feedback, frankly,” said Leffingwell. “I don't see how there could've been any feedback on this.” In some follow up questions for PARD golf division manager Kevin Gomillion, Tovo clarified that the group only meets quarterly – the implication being that contacting them by phone or e-mail made sense in this case.
But as anyone who’s watched City Hall for the past year can tell you, communications outside of traditional channels are a big bad no-no. Did the poll constitute an illegal walking quorum of the Golf Advisory Board? City attorney Karen Kennard quickly chimed in that the board was "not a city appointed board or commission, so there’s no problem with receiving this input the way it was received." Still, Bill Spelman implored PARD staff not to use a similarly informal method in the future.
Another reason for the informal poll seems to be because some of the 15 voting members of the Golf Advisory Group "don't do email," in the words of Gomillion. (And of the 15, only 11 members actually sounded off on Tovo's language – six in support, four opposed, one abstaining. Indeed, it’s impossible to find anything substantial about this consortium online.)
Later, Leffingwell continued nitpicking the language allowing smokes between first and last hole. "What if you over-hit the green,” ending up past the 18th, he asked. And, in another memorable turn of phrase, he asked “How would this be enforced? We have park rangers, but not golf course rangers.” Ultimately, he sided in favor with all other council members, saying “I don't think the juice is worth the squeeze on this one,” but saying he didn't think the exemption language “will do much harm … [or] do much good, either.”