There's a big problem with the recent selection of Jim Monaghan, Wellington Webb's campaign consultant, to lead a study on why Denver's seven municipal golf courses are operating at a $429,000 deficit this year: Monaghan & Associates knows nothing about golf.
Then again, the current flap surrounding the courses isn't about golf. It's about politics--and, perhaps, development around Denver International Airport.
Monaghan's $57,000 bid beat out proposals from several well-regarded local and national firms that specialize in golf-related work, and the choice of the mayor's pal has aroused exasperation, disappointment and anger from members of the city's golf community.
The city conducted what some say was a hurried selection process, ignoring its own Golf Advisory Committee. Now the city's talking of bypassing its golf panel again by appointing a special "task force" after the consultants finish their job.
Monaghan wouldn't talk with Westword, but one of his employees, David Kenney, who was Webb's campaign manager earlier this year, insists that the public relations and lobbying firm is more than qualified for the public-policy end of the study.
"This is really something we do all the time, so why shouldn't we do it here?" says Kenney. "He [Monaghan] happens to be friends with the governor and friends with the mayor, but should that stop us from doing work in our hometown? Is our team qualified? You bet. Did we put together a good proposal? You bet. Is it going to work out well for the city of Denver? You bet."
Are some local golf experts miffed? You bet. John Edwards, publisher of Colorado Golfer newspaper, describes the selection of Monaghan as "the biggest pit of cronyism I have ever seen."
Even Perry Dye, president of Dye Design, an experienced golf-design company that is a subcontractor for Monaghan's firm on the project, doesn't discount the possibility that Monaghan's selection represents cronyism. But he says it was still an "ingenious" decision.
"As odd as it may seem for a municipality to seek out a political-style consultant in this issue, it is really a touch of reality," Dye says. "Municipalities who run municipal facilities can create immense amounts of animosity among constituents by providing golf in a poor manner. To say municipal golf is not political is to deny reality."
The city's courses, which charge suburbanites considerably higher greens fees than Denver residents must pay, are meant to either break even or generate revenue that can be used for future improvements. They've done neither the past two years, and this year's losses are even worse than 1994's $298,000 deficit. A $1.3 million loan from the city's contingency fund--which the Denver City Council will vote on later this month--is expected to bail the system out for now, but will have to be repaid, and no one is sure exactly how.
One reason is that revenue from non-resident golfers is declining; they're taking advantage of newer, tougher suburban courses. The number of non-resident rounds at Denver's courses dropped from 150,000 in 1990 to just over 100,000 last year. While non-residents account for only 30 percent of the golfers, they provide half the revenue--because they have to pay higher greens fees.
And while the city's golf courses are losing money, some people are clamoring for the city to build another course--one that would benefit the developers of acreage near DIA.
What could become Denver's eighth municipal golf course would be built at Green Valley Ranch, a growing area around East 48th Avenue and Tower Road. It would be the closest golf course to the new airport, and that's where Monaghan's links--which have nothing to do with golf--may pay off.
In the mid-Eighties, Monaghan & Associates worked for a land planner who in turn represented a consortium of developers. That group of developers included a current owner of Green Valley Ranch, the Alpert Corporation. Now Monaghan's firm will help decide whether a new course, which would be a boon to the ranch's owners, will be built. A total of $2.5 million from a 1989 bond issue has already been earmarked for the new course, but estimates place its final cost at anywhere from $4.5 million to $6 million. "Why are we doing this if we can't afford to maintain our current courses?" asks one member of the city's ignored Golf Advisory Committee.
Kenney insists that Monaghan never worked for Alpert directly, and has no conflict of interest in the new city contract. But previously Monaghan has found himself in situations that critics complained were conflicts. Within the past year, his firm simultaneously did consulting work for both Webb and the Anschutz Corporation--while Anschutz was a partner of the Denver Nuggets in the team's negotiations with the city for a new arena.
The golf woes pose the same kind of sticky political problem that Monaghan specializes in. "We're not going to be able to present to downtown a win-win deal without the heat," Dye says. Which means that, when Monaghan's work is completed early next year and presented to the city, its recommendations will likely step on some toes.
Developers and city officials expect construction of the Green Valley Ranch course--which has been in discussion or planning almost since the land was annexed by the city in 1973--to begin sometime next year. "It's a great public amenity that's been a long time in coming," says Bernie Milliner, an aide to councilmember Allegra "Happy" Haynes, whose district includes Green Valley Ranch. "We'll be glad when we finally break ground. We're expecting it's going to happen."
But Charles Robertson, the city's new deputy manager of Parks and Recreation, says there is only a fifty-fifty chance that the course will be contructed soon. "You can't build somethin' if you have nothin'," he says.
"We can't really afford any more losers," agrees councilmember Ted Hackworth, adding that he's sure the council will see pressure from land developers to build the course. "We'll just have to say no. That's what we tell our kids. That's what the city council has to do."
One entity that's entirely out of the decision-making loop in the existing conflict is the city's Golf Advisory Committee. The seven-member panel --several of whose members possess considerable golf expertise--meets every other month with city officials and exists precisely to advise the city on matters pertaining to golf. "They tell us what's going on and we make suggestions," says chairman Pat Gallavan.
But is anyone listening? According to Robertson, the city decided not to involve the committee in the selection of a golf consultant. Former chairman Charlie Kay describes the committee as "window dressing, plain and simple," and adds, "They wouldn't follow a single recommendation we made. It's not like anyone proposed anything that was really radical."
The panel didn't have a chance to make any proposals in this instance. Last July, the city issued requests for proposals for a thorough analysis about what had to be done to restore the courses' competitiveness. Included among the three teams of applicants were the National Golf Foundation (NGF), one of the country's biggest golf research organizations; THK Associates, which has done the feasibility studies on the majority of metro Denver courses; RFG, Inc., a veteran golf research firm; and Dick Phelps, whose company has designed many area courses, including Evergreen, South Suburban, the new nine holes at Kennedy and Aurora's Saddlerock.
None of those firms was in on the winning bid.
Pete Elzi, a partner at THK, says his company had criticized the Denver courses a few months before the requests for proposals came out, so he wasn't surprised when his team lost. "Maybe the selection committee didn't like our comments," he speculates. However, he was surprised that his competitor NGF didn't get the bid. So was NGF.
"I thought we put together a great team and a real good proposal," says Barry Frank, vice president of NGF's consulting subsidiary, which handles between 55 and 70 consulting jobs a year. "We would have liked to have won that one. There are darn few companies that do this--golf as a business. I'm not sure Monaghan has the expertise that they need."
Monaghan, whose bid came in between the two other teams of consultants, didn't come to the table empty-handed. It will be working with not only Dye Design but BBC, a sports research and consulting firm.
But losing bidder Elzi points out: "Dye does not do feasibility studies. It does the physical side. If BBC does the financial side, then what's the role of [Monaghan]? Somebody should make this guy show he has some relevant golf experience."
Monaghan's role, says Kenney, will be to conduct the marketing and public policy portions of the study.
B.G. Brooks, the new director of Parks and Recreation, says NGF's bid of $66,000 to $81,000 was too high, while the "deliverables" were too low. THK, which bid $34,000 to $40,500, produced what Brooks calls a "boilerplate proposal. We needed some creativity that wasn't in their proposal."
And the city didn't make up its mind all by itself. Denver paid $1,800 to bring in RMD Financial, a small, local consulting firm headed by Richard M. Daniel, to make recommendations on the proposals. Seeking outside assistance, Parks and Recreation officials say, is proof of the city's impartiality.
But some observers note that the selection process still was more hurried than usual. "If you look at Aurora and look at their last two [requests for proposals], or prior ones with Denver and the way they're done, this one stands apart from all the other examples," says one source close to the bidding.
For one thing, the RFP was out for only two weeks, instead of the more common four or six; for another, at least two of the three firms contacted were not interviewed, which is unusual for proposals jammed with technical information.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
And there was no selection committee, as there usually is; Parks and Recreation officials made the decision themselves, with help from RMD, of course. (RMD and city officials won't reveal what RMD's recommendation was, but Kenney says the firm chose Monaghan's bid.) After Monaghan was selected, there was no recourse for the losers.
"We requested that the parks and recreation department and the city attorney review the evaluation and award process," says J.R. Witt, president of losing bidder RFG, "and were informed on several occasions by various individuals within such departments that no appeal was available and that none was allowed."
At Witt's request, the city attorney's office reviewed the selection process, and concluded that it was conducted fairly. But Witt notes, "There's no formal process by which we could have filed any type of request, nor were we entitled to receive any hearing. Based upon that, we let it go."
The park department's Brooks contends that the city was simply making the most efficient use of its resources. "We're not talking about a lot of money, we're talking peanuts," she says. "I don't prefer to make an issue of the process. To me, $50,000 wasn't worth spending another $25,000 putting a committee together and wasting employee time. It wasn't worth the brain damage.