Good thing Groundhog day is coming up. The Flagler Beach City Commission is doing its best to reenact its recurring drama with Flagler Golf Management, the company that’s been running the city’s nine-hole Ocean Palms Golf Club at the south end of town since 2015.
Thursday evening the commission agreed to give yet another 30-day ultimatum to the golf management company to fix a series of problems, from a lack of financial transparency to issues with the public, then appear before the commission to explain itself and prove how it will ensure a smoother relationship henceforth. In other words, repeat the same exercises the two sides went through in 2018, if with a somewhat different cast of characters, and in 2017. (See: “Flagler Beach’s Golf Course Closed Again, Its Fate Uncertain, As Dispute With City Leads To Impasse” and “Déjà Vu All Over Again at Flagler Beach Golf Course as City Grants Yet Another Probation.”)
The city sought to perform an audit of the operation last June. “While they were relatively prompt in responding back and inviting us out to do an audit, the records are an issue, became an issue, and remain an issue,” City Attorney Drew Smith said. “It’s been a trickle at best of information I think since June, when the first request was made.”
The city has an auditing firm. It provided a list of documents it needed to perform the audit. The list was passed to Flagler Golf Management, the company running the course. The company provided monthly sales tax reports (which it should have been providing all along, but was not). It wasn’t enough to perform the audit. “I won’t hypothesize as to what’s going on,” Smith said, “but it does not look like books are being very thoroughly kept over there. And so I think that certainly is a concern for the city manager and I’m sure a concern for all of you.”
There are additional concerns, including occasional complaints from the public, Smith said. For now, Smith wanted authorization from the commission to conduct further investigations of the golf course to determine whether–and to what extent–the company is not meeting its lease obligations. The company would get a letter outlining issues and give the company a 30-day window to appear before the city commission and explain what it’s done to “cure” the problems, “and have that conversation of–are you going to stay there? Are you going to do what the lease says? And have you cured the things that we’ve said you have not been doing?” Smith said.
“But at some point we have to push, it seems, because just being nice–”
“Isn’t working,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said.
Smith acknowledged what he described as the “changes” at the company. It was a nice way of referring to the arrest, trial and incarceration of the owner of Flagler Golf Management. Terry McManus was arrested in 2019 on a DUI charge then in 2020 on a felony fraud charge. He was tried on the DUI charge, found guilty last June and returned to jail, and sentenced last October to four years in prison (it was his third offense inside a 10-year span). The state dropped the fraud charge two weeks ago. Between time served and eligibility for gain time, or early release, after serving 85 percent of his sentence, McManus could be freed in 34 months.
The golf operation has since been owned and run by his wife, Tiffany McManus, and Zachary Durick, both of Wellington. Terry McManus’s name was listed on annual Division of Corporations filings, but his name was removed (and replaced with Durick’s) four days ago.
“I am desperately trying to not prejudge,” City Manager William Whitson said. “But what I’m hearing and seeing so far, it makes me concerned for the public, fiscal responsibility that we have to manage that asset correctly. Maybe others kicked that down the road, but I’m not going to do that.” By “others,” Whitson was referring to the late Larry Newsome, his predecessor. The judgment was not entirely fair. Newsom had tangled with Flagler Golf several times and at one point even determined that ending the lease was in order for the very same reasons. The commission was about to vote to do just that in January 2018. It was Smith who stopped it–not because he was kicking the can down the road, but because it was a matter of due process for McManus.
McManus in turn pleaded his case yet again, was placed on probation, and again faced criticism from Newsom that July for non-compliance. At that point the commission issued a 30-day ultimatum for McManus to fix the problems or face a lease termination. He was soon again granted another probationary term. Relations seemed to improve after that. (See: “Ocean Palm, Flagler Beach’s 9-Hole Golf Course, Is Finally Seeing Green All Around as Disputes Fade.”) Then came, in succession, McManus’s arrests and the pandemic.
Commissioner Ken Bryan was not on the commission during the 2018 rounds. His patience with the management company bran out some time back. “I think it’s way past time that we did something on this,” he said. “When I became a commissioner a year and five months ago, whatever it was, I read the lease several times. And after that, I spent many times going down there just trying to find out what was happening. And it was pretty clear that breach of contract had been violated numerous times. And I think we’ve just given them so many opportunities to cure the issues that as elected officials and representatives of the community, we have a fiduciary responsibility to move on this sooner than later.”
There was no dissent on the commission.
Commission Chairman Eric Cooley, who is in his second three-year term, did recall the 2018 issues (and 2017 issues), and said those very same problems should have been fixed years ago. “I would say let’s put a pin in that conversation until they’re here and able to respond,” Smith said.