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No decision on Butler Pitch & Putt contract

Friday, June 7, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

With Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison both absent for a vote at Thursday’s meeting, City Council has postponed approving a contract of up to 20 years for Pecan Grove Golf Partners for managing Austin’s nearly 70-year-old Butler Park Pitch & Putt golf course.

Council will be taking up the contract for a vote again on June 20, without granting members of the public another opportunity to speak on the item.

The nine-hole course in Butler Park was designed by Winston Kinser in 1949 and has been managed by the Kinser family since opening to the public in 1950. Lee Kinser, who has managed the park since 1995, will hand over operations to Pecan Grove on Aug. 12, the last day of the city’s contract with Butler Pitch & Putt, Inc., if the contract is awarded to Pecan Grove.

Council chose not to open negotiations with potential bidders at the termination of Kinser’s previous contract with the city in 2014.

Though the Parks and Recreation Department says park conditions have improved and revenue to the city has increased in recent years under Kinser’s management, the city chose this time to release a request for proposals in March to compare that performance with other bids.

Kinser compiled her own proposal for business but failed to include a signature validating the document. Since the proposal process is conducted entirely on paper, the mistake was not flagged by staff until after the RFP window had closed on April 9. Kinser’s proposal was thus considered “non-responsive” by the city, despite criticism from both city board members and community members that exclusion on such grounds is unnecessarily austere.

The city received two other proposals for management of the course, the most compelling from Pecan Grove and another from Butler Golf Association, LLC. While the details of the proposals have not been released, Parks and Recreation staff awarded the proposal from Pecan Grove 25 out of 30 points in its evaluation of the plan’s overall concept for improving park conditions while preserving the golf course’s reputation for affordability.

Matt Duree, procurement manager with the city’s Purchasing Office, told the Parks and Recreation Board in May that opening the bidding process up to include Kinser’s proposal after the date had closed would violate city policy and demonstrate preferential treatment to a specific bidder.

Steve Butler, whose family the park was originally named after, said Thursday in public comment that this instance is unique considering the circumstances of its rejection and the history of the park. “This is not,” he said, “going to open a floodgate of reconsideration of procurement matters.”

Based on those details, Council Member Ann Kitchen motioned to reject all three bids and extend the current contract with Kinser for up to six months to allow for a new bidding process.

“The bottom line for me is that I think a decision that is as important as this … needs to be made on the merits, on the fully vetted evaluation, not on a technicality,” Kitchen said.

With Harper-Madison and Adler absent, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan made a substitute motion to postpone the vote to June 20. He noted his discomfort with Council members potentially getting so deeply involved in the city’s procurement process as to forgo solicitation process standards to make an exception for Kinser.

Both Flannigan’s substitute motion and Kitchen’s original motion failed initially, followed by Council Member Alison Alter making a successful motion to postpone.

Photo by WhisperToMe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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