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Much ado about a golfing school at Aspen course

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Ruth Kruger
ALL |

ASPEN – Aspen mayoral candidate and interim Councilwoman Ruth Kruger continued her assault on the city’s proposed $15,000 contract with Carl Rabito Golf Academies during a special meeting Monday, while another council member suggested that her questioning may have been designed to score political points with the electorate.

Rejecting Kruger’s protestations, Councilman Torre and Mayor Mick Ireland voted 2-1 to move the contract forward. Councilmen Steve Skadron and Derek Johnson – who expressed full support for the contract during the April 11 regular meeting when Kruger first brought up her issues with the golfing-school plan – did not attend the special meeting Monday.

Torre said he, like Kruger, has received input from some local residents involved in the Aspen golfing community who are opposed to the contract. But, Torre added, one of the most difficult things about being on the council “is having to make decisions when you have a very vocal minority” in the community.

“I think you brought up their questions and I’m wondering, Ruth, if this is part of a campaign statement. You are throwing up things – even like, what [does a golf instructor] do when it rains? I’ve got to say, I understand your concerns but we seem to be at an impasse where you don’t seem to want to support this contract,” Torre said.

Kruger said she didn’t understand the rush to pass the contract and requested that the decision be delayed another week so that more of her questions could be answered in the meantime. But golf course officials have stressed the need to act quickly so that the opportunity to bring in a high-quality instruction program is not lost.

“I just want to know, are we putting this off another week in order to just kill this?” Torre asked Kruger. “I just want to know more from you. The look on your face right now, and the things that you’ve said, I’m just not sure where they come from.”

Kruger did not reply to the suggestion that her line of questioning was associated with her campaign tactics, but instead reiterated that she was not comfortable with the contract. Earlier in the meeting, she brought up the fact that a “popular” golf instructor was being terminated because of the city’s contract with Rabito, a nationally renowned instructor with a string of golfing schools across the United States.

She also voiced concerns about the durability of the contract language, wondering aloud whether the city could face heavy IRS fines for possibly misstating the business relationship between Rabito and the city. The contract calls for Rabito to set up a golf school at city-owned Aspen Golf Club, with the city supplying $15,000 in start-up costs. In turn, the city would receive 30 percent of the operation’s first $100,000 in gross revenue, or $30,000, and a smaller percentage of sales above that amount.

Ireland dismissed the likelihood that the contract language could lead to liability over employment terminology, but said the city attorney would re-examine the contract before signing it.

Torre said the risks of bringing in Rabito Golf, and the possible rewards, were “something we’d never know if we don’t try it.

“Let’s all keep in mind that we’re talking about golf,” Torre said. “This isn’t life and death. I’m really not fighting for the contract. I do support it. I think that they’ve come up with a process that’s gotten us to a qualified applicant and we have the ability to try this for the summer and see if it works for us and if it doesn’t we can terminate it.”

Kruger said she met with Director of Golf Steve Aitken on Thursday, a few days after the April 11 council meeting, to discuss her concerns, and was prepared to support the contract as late as Friday.

“And then I had a lot more phone calls, not me calling other people but them calling me,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable that this is a unanimously supported proposal. … I don’t see any reason to rush this.”

Kruger said she was “concerned about those people who are involved. It might not be life and death to us, but it might be jobs to people who live here.”

Torre acknowledged that an instructor was being displaced, but said a successful golf school might mean the addition of more golf professionals being hired.

“And if you’re looking for unanimous support, then we might as well say that you’re not going to support this because getting unanimous support for just about anything, is [difficult],” he said.

Ireland, one of Kruger’s two opponents in the mayoral race, sought information from Aitken and Parks Director Jeff Woods about the level of support for the Rabito school within the local golfing community.

Aitken said the city’s advisory golf panel unanimously supports the initiative. He also said a majority of the Aspen Junior Golf Association board supports it as well, but noted that there are a few dissenters.

“The majority [of the association’s board] has approved that vote,” Aitken said, adding that he would supply to the council the names and numbers of those who don’t object to Rabito Golf landing a contract with the city.

“The Aspen Golf Advisory Board was unanimous,” he said. “Aspen Junior Golf supported the concept but Aspen Junior Golf was not unanimous because they never were able to look at the contract to make a decision.”

Rick Head, a member of the association’s board and a summer instructor in the junior golf program, confirmed that most board members supported the contract. No one else in the audience came forward to speak for or against the contract.

Kruger also questioned whether students in the Rabito Golf Academy would impact other golfers using the driving range. Aitken said a section of the range could be set aside for those learning from Rabito’s instructors while a larger area would be reserved for regular users.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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