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Tee it up for public debate
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Forsyth County News
Imagine a governmental entity pushing with stubborn determination a potentially expensive goal with little transparency for its constituents and without the support of those governed.

Sound like Congress and the passage of health care reform?

How about the Forsyth County commission and its persistent interest in acquiring Lanier Golf Course?

Some members of the county commission are committed to the idea that the county should buy the golf course. Cynics would suggest their interest in doing so is an effort to appease vocal political supporters.

The county has surreptitiously obtained multiple property evaluations on the property, apparently commissioning repeated appraisals in an effort to get one it liked.

Now two members of the commission have taken it upon themselves to negotiate with a private company in drafting the outline of a public-private partnership that would have the county joining the private company in acquiring the course.

Commissioner Jim Harrell confirmed last week that he and fellow commissioner Jim Boff had discussed such a deal with Affiniti Golf Partners.
Harrell said the plan had not been presented to the full commission for discussion, so apparently he and Boff are framing the outlines of an agreement on their own.

Public-private initiatives for recreational venues are not necessarily a bad thing. Lake Lanier Islands, for example, is public property operated under a lease with a private vendor. The city of Cumming hopes to entice a private operator to Mary Alice Park.

But what little we know about the county’s golf course plans leads to nothing but questions. Such as:

• Why does the county want to invest in a golf course when courses throughout the metro area, and in fact much of the country, are either closed, bankrupt or facing foreclosure?

• Why does the county want to spend $9 million on a golf course when its financial picture is the bleakest it has been in decades?

• Do we want this commission — or any commission — entering into a 99-year lease with a private company?

• Can the county agree to a lease agreement without offering other companies the opportunity to put forth similar proposals? How do we know Affiniti offers the best deal?

Harrell says the private firm’s operation of the course will not have a financial impact on the county: “If they lose money, they lose money. It won’t affect the county.” But what happens if they no longer operate the course?

Those members of the county commission who have conducted a stealth campaign to purchase this property surely have answers to all these questions and more, and may be able to show the county’s entry in the public golf course business at this particular time makes great sense. But they need to share those answers in public before anybody signs on the dotted line.

If it is seriously considering such a public-private initiative, the commission should schedule public hearings at which hard numbers and all potential legal entanglements are fully and openly discussed in detail. Such a forum should offer an opportunity for public input as well.

To do anything else would go beyond political arrogance to public malfeasance.