Residents may be able to tee off at Fred Enke Golf Course a little longer than expected because a recent decision from the National Park Service could extend its life.
Since the city accepted federal assistance to open the course back in the 1980s, "any change in use has to be run by them ... to get their permission," said City Manager Richard Miranda. "The National Park Service has said the change in use is a significant change in use and the permitting is going to take longer than what we had thought."
If the preliminary decision stands, the timeline to close the golf course may extend up to a year or more as environmental impact studies, historical preservation analyses and other requirements are satisfied.
City officials anticipated shutting down Fred Enke sometime next summer if a private management company doesn't emerge to take over one or more of the city's golf courses.
That deadline was set because many officials considered the transformation of Fred Enke into a "passive" park a minor change. Their opinion was based on what the city believed were two of the major issues the Park Service factors into its decision-making: The course would still be a natural environment and the general public would still be able to use it.
Now, City Councilwoman Regina Romero is questioning the origins of this decision.
"We were told, even by a person who used to be a deputy director at the (United States) Department of the Interior, that it's something that's much more open than before," Romero said. "This is not an extreme change, ... so it's very curious why someone in Nebraska made this decision for Tucson."
Romero said she believes city Parks and Recreation and city golf officials could be working behind the scenes to subvert the process. She calls that an all-too-common occurrence in Tucson government.
"We are all baffled. There seems to be some lobbying going on from administration," Romero said. "I believe there is pressure from our Parks (and Recreation) administration and our golf administration."
Romero said those two departments have been obfuscating the truth on golf and resisting the mayor and council ever since the discussion on how to grapple with golf deficits began a few years ago.
"We are trying not to dismantle golf, but there is extreme pushback. It's been a struggle with those two administrations from the very beginning," Romero said. "They never told us that golf was running deficits. This came to our attention not from the staff but from our independent audit commission."
Romero said she became suspicious after an email from a National Park Service employee in the Midwest mentioned her office was receiving correspondence from the Tucson area imploring the Park Service to follow the "appropriate legal steps."
"What average resident has the phone number for a random bureaucrat in Nebraska?" Romero said. "So I think this is just continued pushback to make the process more difficult."
She said if someone in administration is doing this, Miranda has to step in and put a stop to it.
"When we see this type of pushback, it's unacceptable. ... Nobody voted for these people. It's not their place to choose policy," Romero said. "And it's only fair for the community to know. They elected us to represent them."
City Finance Director Kelly Gottschalk said she isn't aware of any staff members undercutting the city.
"We are doing our due diligence in carrying out council's direction," Gottschalk said. "I am not aware of anyone doing this. If they are, that's grounds for discipline. City employees can't be (working) against mayor and council. But I don't believe that is happening."
Mike Hayes, deputy director of Tucson City Golf, said neither he nor his department was engaging in any activities that could be construed as interfering with mayor and council's orders.
"None whatsoever," Hayes said.
Miranda said he was aware there was some opposition to the closing of Fred Enke, but he did not know who made the complainants. Parks and Recreation Director Fred Gray could not be reached for comment.
What's next for golf program
Gottschalk said that as of now, nothing is final concerning the National Park Service decision, and city staff members will continue to discuss the matter with the Park Service.
"What we're trying to determine now is whether it's a long process or a short process," Gottschalk said.
Over the next few months, the city will search for a qualified private management company. If no one is deemed suitable, the city will start implementing its changes.
In addition to Fred Enke, El Rio Golf Course would be turned into a combination park and golf course under the plan.
The moves are part of the city's attempt to get the $7.5 million golf deficit under control.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org