Discounted golf passes no longer available for elected officials

Discounted all-course season golf passes will no longer be available to elected officials and their families after the program was criticized by Commissioner Brad Bourn (Dist. 6).

At the Nov. 6 Park Board meeting Bourn called out the long-standing program that offers all-course season golf passes to elected officials and their families for $20.

Bourn compared the discounted passes to a family all-course season pass, which costs $3,000 if purchased after May 1. Park Board staff told Bourn about 20 of the discounted passes were sold to elected officials and their family members last year.

“One of the things in our budget is looking at reducing Sunday hours at rec centers to save $60,000 but at the same time we are…giving away arguably $30,000 in free golf to elected officials,” said Bourn at the Nov. 6 meeting. [note: 20 passes at the $3,000 rate is actually $60,000]

Commissioner Scott Vreeland (Dist. 3), who purchased a discounted pass last year, later corrected Bourn, saying that each family member has to pay the $20 fee for the pass. That makes the discounted pass more like an adult season pass, which costs $1,365 after May 1.

“I have a golf pass. Cost me $20, I’ve never actually golfed. My son, who makes $18,000 a year, loves to golf, so it’s one of the few perks we have as commissioners,” said Vreeland. “You don’t get a golf cart and you’re supposed to golf on [off-peak] times so it’s not reducing our income,” he added.

At the Nov. 20 Park Board meeting commissioners voted unanimously to rescind the program, which was implemented in 1982.

“Not that many people still use the program anymore anyway, we have been looking into getting rid of it since I was first elected,” said Commissioner Liz Wielinski (Dist. 1).  

Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller had previously raised concerns about the discounted pass policy. Last May she directed Brian Rice, who serves as legal counsul for the Park Board, to look into its legality.

Rice found that the discounted passes did not violate any campaign finance laws.

“It’s a fairly simple analysis. The law says that a lobbyist or principal may not give a gift or… accept a gift to an official or lobbyist. The definition of principal under the statute is an individual or association, and the definition of an association does not include a government entity,” said Rice.

Sara Ackmann, manager of Park Board recreation programs and facilities, said that the discounted pass program is “somewhat of an industry standard,” however, staff from Edina and St. Paul said they do not offer discounted golf passes to elected officials.