A recent Sunday News article on the Manheim Township Commissioners' free use of the township-owned golf course was "frivolous" and off the mark, a township commissioner said last week.
Larry Downing, who's usually one of the most mild-mannered of the five commissioners, took the newspaper to task for a Jan. 16 article on the township's policy of allowing the commissioners, the township's decision-making board, free use of Overlook Golf Course.
"I personally see a great value in being allowed to use the facility," Downing said during last Monday night's board meeting.
The commissioners and their guests used the equivalent of $12,000 at the course in 2010, "and for a community that has a $19 million budget, that's a very small cost," said Downing, the board's vice president and also its former president.
"And quite frankly, I'm quite upset with Lancaster Newspapers for choosing to take on this particular subject. I thought it was frivolous, and I'm appalled that it was something the newspaper thought was something they'd take on," Downing said.
The issue was raised near the end of the commissioners' meeting, the first of the board's twice-monthly sessions since the story ran. The article was reported by Inside Story, the investigative unit of Lancaster Newspapers Inc. Two editorials, one in the Lancaster New Era editorial section, and one in the Sunday News, questioned the free golf.
Township resident Barbara Harr asked the commissioners during the public comment portion of the meeting whether they plan to change the golf policy.
Harr, of the 1900 block of North Eden Road, also is a member of the Manheim Township Democratic Committee. The five township commissioners are Republicans.
Overlook lies west of Lititz Pike, between Lancaster and Neffsville. The township purchased it in 1989.
It was noted in the Jan. 16 story that elected officials elsewhere in central Pennsylvania do not play for free at their municipally owned golf courses.
However, commissioners at Manheim Township have played free golf since the mid-1990s.
Also, township employees may play up to 10 rounds of free golf with carts a year.
Golf course employees get unlimited free playing time to compensate for relatively low pay. Golf course volunteers also receive unlimited free playing time.
Carol Simpson, the president of the commissioners, does not play golf. Commissioners J. Michael Flanagan and Richard Casselbury Jr. did not play last year at Overlook either.
But Commissioners Downing and James Martin played golf on the course.
Overlook records for 2010 indicate that the commissioners and their invited guests played 401 rounds of golf without charge.
The township records show that commissioners and their guests and township and golf course employees played rounds of golf that would be worth approximately $49,000 if not counted as complementary benefits of employment.
The rounds played by the commissioners were worth about $12,000 of the total. Township employees played about $3,000 worth of golf while golf course staffers and volunteers played about $34,000 worth.
The commissioners said they plan to discuss the matter, but said Monday they haven't yet done so.
"I think there is a lot of conversation that we could and should have on this topic," Simpson said, "but I want to clarify [concerns] that $12,000 is entirely for us to go out and play golf.
"A lot of that [amount] are rounds of golf that were used for entertaining potential donors to the library, used for the high school golf team, that are used for charity.
"I just want to be clear that we [the five commissioners] are not out there using $12,000 worth of golf. We will be talking about this. Golf doesn't start yet ... well, maybe for some people it starts now," but they plan to discuss it before golf season starts in earnest, Simpson added.
She also called the article "somewhat sensationalized, in my opinion."
In the earlier story, Simpson said that the money should not be counted as lost township revenue.
"They wouldn't necessarily do all those things" if they weren't free, she said.
Harr, the township resident who questioned the golfing policy, said that because "the public is subsidizing this ... I think there really needs to be some clarification."