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Golf course owner hopes Council will intervene in Butler Park contract dispute

Thursday, May 2, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The owner of Butler Park Pitch & Putt golf course is hoping City Council will reopen the contract process that threatens to end the nearly 70-year family operation.

Lee Kinser, owner and president of the small golf course tucked off South Lamar Boulevard, is appealing to the community to bring attention to the city’s decision to disqualify her bid to continue overseeing the course that operates on downtown city parkland. Kinser’s bid was thrown out because she neglected to sign one page of the documents submitted as part of the city’s request for proposal process.

As a result, the city’s Purchasing Office evaluated the other proposals for the course and is recommending Council select Pecan Grove Golf Partnership as the new operator of the course. That contract is likely to come up for Council consideration next month.

The situation is a drastic turnabout from five years ago when Council took the somewhat controversial step to negotiate only with Kinser for the next five-year renewal period rather than opening up the contract for competitive bids. That 5-2 vote was seen as a nod to the Kinser family’s decades of management of the course.

“With me they know what they’re going to get, which is somebody who follows all their rules, pays rent all the time, fills out all the reports, and so I don’t understand this,” Kinser told the Austin Monitor. “I’m super disappointed that I could have a relationship with the city for this long and then over one signature disqualify me. I don’t have a clue what’s at play. All I’m asking for is for my proposal to be considered and graded fairly along with the other two they’ve already graded.”

Kinser said her proposal included plans to spend more than $500,000 upgrading the greens and tee boxes on the course as well as make other improvements to the landscaping. As a result, she said course fees, which range from $9 to $11, would have increased by a dollar. The current contract, which expires Aug. 12, gives the city 18 percent of gross course revenue as rent. The Austin American-Statesman reports that amounted to just over $87,000 in city revenue last year.

Kinser’s appeal to being disqualified was rejected, meaning a decision by Council to reopen the bid process is her only possibility for keeping control of the course.

Anti-lobbying rules bar Kinser and any of her representatives from contacting Council members or city staff involved in the decision-making process.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose district includes the course, said she couldn’t comment on the dispute.

A.J. Bingham, the lobbyist Kinser has employed to raise awareness over her predicament, said the city should have granted Kinser an opportunity to have her proposal graded with the others, rather than being disqualified over a clerical error.

“She understands the process and the procedures and she wasn’t flippant about the one signature but at the same time, it is one signature,” he said. “I’m in no way diminishing what that means as a part of the process, but essentially that’s what this all comes down to.”

With the matter open until Council makes its decision to award the contract, Bingham said raising public awareness is Kinser’s best hope.

“Whatever daylight she has comes from talking to the press and bringing attention to this,” he said. “There have been cases big and small where Council has said they’d like to see more. Ultimately it is Council’s decision in terms of what they want to do, but in the past there have been cases where they’ve made changes.”

Photo by WhisperToMe [Public domain].

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