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Norwalk Oak Hills’ problems run deep, superintendent says

A man enjoys the great outdoors Wednesday at Oak Hills Golf Course in Norwalk.

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – Numbers show that a driving range is not the solution to financial woes at Oak Hills Golf Course, according to the course’s superintendent, who says that information is being hidden from the public.

That superintendent is a disgruntled employee who should be ignored, the chairman of the Oak Hills Authority says.

The proposed driving range and other issues are on the agenda for Thursday night’s authority meeting. So is an executive session to deal with a personnel matter.

There are plenty of other issues, according to the superintendent, Thomas Vorio. He alleges terrible customer service at the course and says money has been spent unnecessarily due to mismanagement.

Vorio sent an email to the Common Council on Dec. 9 to “communicate the frustration of the park maintenance department and its employees for what is taking place.”

“It is deeply concerning what is going on at the golf course and I am pleading with you, to step in and take authoritative control of the situation,” he said. “I have never seen a public entity (OHPA) with more secrets and attempts to hide pertinent information from the public at large. The closing of the restaurant is only one of the many skeletons in the closet at the golf course.”

In return, Oak Hills Authority Chairman Bob Virgulak sent his own email to the council, alleging that Vorio is unhappy because he wanted a three-year extension on his contract, and an assistant, which the authority did not have the money to pay for.

“Tommy has been warned on several occasions by our executive director, chairman of our HR dept. and myself to stick within the parameters of his own responsibilities and not try and interfere with the management of the golf course,” he said. “During our reorganization, we asked some former employees to come back to work and they would not because of Tommy’s attitude.

“Tommy has asked for an exit strategy by March 1, 2013. I propose to the Board that we expedite this much sooner.”

Council members Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) and Michelle Maggio (R-District E) then sent an email to the other council members suggesting that Vorio not be given a repsonse. “Heaven knows where this might end up,” Kimmel said.

Contacted by NancyOnNorwalk, Vorio provided a list of problems at the park and authority (attached below). He said he had sent it to the city and the council.

It includes these allegations:

  • An ad hoc driving range committee has held several meetings with no notice to the public. At one meeting, numbers were distributed that showed a driving range would not be the answer to the financial woes at Oak Hills. These numbers were never distributed to the public.
  • Numerous finance charges due to bills not being paid in a timely manner. Bills for park maintenance that range from 60-120 days past due. Several vendor relationships have been lost as a result.
  • An employee who cursed and berated one of the course’s best customers still works there. Vorio and the head golf pro communicated issues with “terrible customer service practices at Oak Hills, especially by the rangers and cashiers,” but there has been no action.
  • There have been several large expenditures greater than $10,000 from the $150,000 borrowed from the city with no RFP, which is against city purchasing guidelines. Vorio was asked to call one vendor and ask for a lower price, thus preventing the opposing vendor from receiving the bid.
  • A member of management forced Vorio to set up the course up in a manner that would damage the greens in late August. As a result, an emergency email vote of $5,000 was needed, and the existing fertilizer/chemical inventory was depleted. The greens needed to be aerified for an additional time for agronomic health, which caused a public nuisance. Vorio was instructed by the chairman to publicize this as “summer stress.”

“I am doing what I feel is moral,” Vorio said in an email. “I am looking out for the best interest of Oak Hills Park, and the city of Norwalk at large.”Oak Hills Park Notes by Thomas Vorio

Correction made 2:41 p.m. Thursday, and 11:49 p.m. Thursday (date of email was incorrect)

Comments

4 responses to “Norwalk Oak Hills’ problems run deep, superintendent says”

  1. Diane C2

    Three sides to every story: he said, they said, and the truth.
    Even if only some of these accusations about the park are true, they’re damning, regardless of the apparently personal motives of the superintendent.
    For sure there have been rumors for months about the fiscal health of the course; reports of FOIA violations (Executive Sessions); the age old accounting standard of robbing Peter to pay Paul; behind the scenes discussions and proposals with prospective bidders; questions on goods and services that were contracted but never out to bid…. the list goes on and on.
    Isn’t it time for the city to stop ignoring Oak Hills Park Authority and launch an investigation into their finances, their operations, and their FOIA compliance?

  2. Diane C2

    and so what were we faced with as we approached the entrance to the meeting room this evening? Two uniformed, on-duty, Norwalk police officers.
    Did Mr. Virgulak think that 10 middle-aged Norwalkers were a threat, or was he fearing a mob of 9-iron-wielding golfers ready to defend their “right” to a driving range?

  3. Oldtimer

    Were those on-duty officers, taken from their regular assignments, or were they on their time off, working an extra duty assignment at time and a half ?

  4. Diane C2

    @OldTimer: confirmed with both officers that they were on-duty, taken from regular assignments (not extra duty). Pathetic, as I think we don’t have enough patrols on the street as it is now, and then to take 2 guys off the road, presumably to contain the over 55’s at the golf meeting. Then again, that’s “par for the course” in Norwalk, isn’t it?

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