The manager of the University Park public golf club and conference center pushes back against criticism over the use of public funds to run the facility.
The golf club is at the center of a controversy over the suspension nearly four months ago of popular community police chief Deborah Wilson.
A year ago, University Park Mayor Joseph Roudez introduced Sonia Coffee, founder and president of CHW Management Group, as the first black woman to manage a golf course in Illinois.
The management company has overcome operational hurdles caused by years of neglect, Coffee said Thursday during a visit to the club at 23520 Crawford Ave.
“It was a bigger challenge than it looked,” she said.
University Park Village board member Theo Brooks questioned the $800,000 in village funds he said University Park had donated to the company over the past year. The facility attracts fewer golfers than other courses in the area, he said.
“We pay them, nothing happens,” Brooks said at a March 22 town hall meeting.
The council approved a motion by Brooks to withhold two payments totaling $52,666 to the CHW Management Group until Village Manager Ernestine Beck-Fulgham provides the trustees with a detailed report explaining the expenses.
Coffee explained the costs to me and showed photos on Thursday that backed up his story that emergency repairs were needed to fix problems with plumbing, ventilation, pest infestation and maintenance equipment.
“With the previous administration, the golf course was very neglected,” Coffee said.
The images showed filters in the heating and air conditioning systems that looked like they hadn’t been changed in years. Exterminators removed a large wasp nest from a kitchen ceiling.
No one cleaned the grease traps, she said, which caused drains to back up and raw sewage to flood toilets and a bar. The refrigeration equipment broke down and had to be repaired. The raccoons entered a building and caused trouble, she said.
In addition to the issues affecting the clubhouse, restaurant and banquet hall areas, all of the mowing equipment needed to maintain the golf course broke down, she said. The workers who mowed the greens quit in frustration at the end of May 2021, she said.
“The maintenance crew that was tending to the grounds just left,” Coffee said. “The last employee was on a mower. When he came out he said, ‘I’m done, we need new gear, here are the keys.’ »
All equipment and maintenance issues described by Coffee were also documented in a quarterly financial report from October to December. The report presented to the village council showed three months income of $169,905 and expenses of $139,150 for a net income of $30,755.
However, $154,000 in revenue was taxpayer-subsidized public funds, while actual sales accounted for only $14,393 in revenue, according to the report.
Coffee defended its track record, saying it spends less money than comparable facilities to keep operations going.
“We have done more for this golf course than any other management group, on a much smaller budget,” she said.
The quarterly report is also the only public record available that sheds light on an altercation at the club that led Beck-Fulgham to place Wilson, the chief constable, on paid administrative leave.
Roudez and other village officials declined to answer questions about the incident, citing confidentiality over a personnel issue. The village cited the same reason in refusing a request through the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of police reports.
Wilson served in the department for many years and is the first black woman to lead a law enforcement agency in Will County.
Coffee’s report says the first of two related incidents happened on November 4 when members of the village public works department arrived at the club and said they were there to carry out winterizing work.
They were told they needed to consult with Coffee and Beck-Fulgham to schedule a time to do the job, according to the report. Public works and golf club staff allegedly argued over equipment used to change tires, according to the report.
“Then somehow it turned out they were looking to retrieve a tire iron,” the report said.
Golf course employees insisted there was no such equipment on site, according to the report.
“The matter escalated into a major incident resulting in the appeal of the (University Park Police Department),” according to the report.
Wilson was suspended six weeks later, on December 16, following a subsequent incident at the golf club. Coffee’s report offered no additional details about the Dec. 16 event, described as an “unfortunate incident.”
“The matter is currently under review by administration/legal counsel internally and externally,” according to Coffee’s report.
Residents and elected officials said in comments at public meetings that Wilson went to the club on Dec. 16 to investigate the Nov. 4 incident and that an altercation ensued.
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A week after the December 16 incident, University Park Village Council voted on December 23 to reject Roudez’s request to appoint Eddie Ray Bradley as interim police chief.
Bradley was previously the village police chief. Former mayor Vivian Covington fired Bradley in 2015 without notice or cause. Bradley filed a federal lawsuit and won a court ruling that found the Village violated his due process rights, court records show.
Roudez said criticism of his leadership was politically motivated. Roudez beat Covington and two other candidates in 2019 to become mayor.
Star Lawson, one of the other contenders in the race, recently filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office accusing Roudez of violating the open meeting law by refusing to call a council meeting. village in person.
The board has met by teleconference for most of the past two years due to the pandemic. The March 22 session appeared to be the first time the village council had met in person since a budget hearing in November.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.