Oak Hills Authority keeps meeting on topic

Oak Hills Park Authority Jan. 30 2013 019
Norwalk Oak Hills Park Authority member Shannon O’Toole Giandurco and Chairman Bob Virgulak listen to members of the public at Wednesday night’s meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s going to be cheaper for non-residents to play golf in Norwalk’s municipal golf course this summer, despite the objections of some Norwalkers. Seniors are expected to pay the same rate as last year, but may get a break on days the course isn’t busy.

The Oak Hills Park Authority unanimously approved its proposed 2013 golf course rate card Wednesday evening after a public hearing marked by tensions spawned by the controversial proposal to build a driving range in the park.

The authority listened to suggestions for improvement to the rate card – and squashed any attempt to go off topic – at its hearing before briefly discussing the suggestions and voting.

Sparks flew several times. Suzanne Ste. Therese, who said she had never spoken in public before, approached the microphone first, only to have Chairman Bob Virgulak raise his voice and interrupt her when she mentioned the driving range. Paul Cantor, who was sitting in the audience, objected, and Virgulak threatened to have him ejected.

“The chairman is supreme,” one person said twice, loudly.

The next man to the microphone, Frank Bisciglia, said, “I’m almost afraid to say something,” although he also spoke at last year’s rate hearing.

Bisciglia objected to the drop in greens fees for non-residents, which he said was $53 last year and $26 this year. Those people, who come from the wealthy towns surrounding Norwalk, will save the $275 they pay for an ID card after paying 10 rounds, he said, and then be on a par with Norwalkers when it comes to greens fees.

The non-resident ID card is $275, $25 more than last year. The $53 fee in 2012 applied to non-residents without a card, according to a rate schedule posted on the Oak Hills website. Card holders payed $35. (Fees refer to prime morning tee times.)

“No one addressed the seniors,” Bisciglia said. “They are on fixed income, but you haven’t even lowered it a dollar.”

The fee for a new adult resident card this year is $75 ($70 for a renewal). After April 1, that increases to $80 and $75. That is the same early fee as last year for a new card, but $5 less than last year for purchasing after April 1. Renewal rates last year were $65 and $75.

Adult resident weekday greens fees this year will be $26 until 4 p.m. ($27 weekends). Last year, the fee was $28 until noon, dropping to $22 from noon to 4 p.m.

Nick Pisano wanted to pay more to play golf. Lowering the greens fees for people over 17 but younger than than 62 didn’t make sense, he said, as the park needs money to maintain the course. “You’re not really hurting us because we’re already paying that rate,” he said.

The proposed tournament fee — $60, a $10 hike from 2012 — is hurting the men’s and women’s golf associations at the park, Mary Ann Cappiello said. She compared it with other fees in the area and said the groups will have to charge too much to hold tournaments at home.

She suggested “spontaneous shotguns.” The tournaments would be planned less than two weeks in advance, a tactic that is bringing in a lot of revenue to Stamford’s Sterling Farms Golf Course.

John Sharkey also wished for cheaper fees for seniors. He said he reluctantly goes to Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, where the fee is $36, as opposed to Norwalk’s $54.

The discussion before the vote lasted six minutes. Authority members said they had been in front of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Common Council with similar rates, and if they lowered them they would have to come up with a new 5-year plan. Golf course Executive Director Shelley Guyer said he would offer special rates for non-resident seniors, especially earlier or later in the season.

Virgulak confirmed that after the meeting. “If there’s no one on the course, then we’re going to give specials, like we did last year,” he said. “They’ll be advertised by email blast.”


6 responses to “Oak Hills Authority keeps meeting on topic”

  1. Suzanne

    Nancy, I did not say I had never spoken in public before. Rather I had never spoken at a public hearing before and especially not to the OHPA. I had heard of their yelling and rudeness and was prepared with a written statement.

    I have, in fact, given many presentations in the past in my role as a Landscape Architect and have studied public speaking. Thus, yelling and cat calls will not take this gal out of the game.

    In my prepared statement, I completely tied in the golf rates to the driving range, as the OHPA has done many times before me. However, this could not be expressed over the histrionics including yelling, cat calls and general forms of intimidation to get me NOT to speak. The OHPA apparently doe not know nor recognize that this only makes people more determined to speak so that the public voices are heard, as is our right.

    I think it takes courage to get up in front of a room of people with some expectation of disrespect and express one’s views anyway. I applaud all of those who got up and gave their opinions in spite of the derision and disrespect, often treated as nuisances instead of valued members of the constituency whom the OHPA serves. They, instead, act like children and, in turn, it is hard to respect them and all of their efforts as appointed members of a valued Commission.

  2. Oldtimer

    It is a shame that Virgulak is convinced he knows everything and there is nothing to be gained by listening politely to persons he may not agree with. That attitude is way to prevelant with this administration.

  3. Suzanne

    Dear Oldtimer, I want to thank you for the suggestion of a “forensic audit.” This has become the banner cry among many because the OHPA continually refuses to divulge financial information.

    In light of Mr. Virgulak’s history, again provided by you and which I appreciate very much, it seems even more necessary as the Course continues to leak money.

    It is a shame: there are so many in the constituency who want to make things work and who would offer their time to help turn things around. This Authority, I believe, would be the last to use this pro-offered expertise and, instead, stays stubborn and tight-lipped.

    Meantime, the Park needs care. Who is going to do it???

  4. Oldtimer

    Good luck trying to get a forensic audit. They are not cheap, unless done by law enforcement. It will take a lot of solid evidence to get law enforcement involved without some whistleblower with inside information. I think Virgulak has support from the mayor, who will not support the idea. You might force the authority to release financial reports under the freedom of information law. A thorough review of them (ask for several years reports) might be enough to prove the need for a forensic audit.

  5. BARIN

    Whats the problem? I would believe that if you have nothing to hide, just release the financial reports. It appears a little hinky if you have a problem with a common sense solution. TRANSPARENCY, the public has a right to know.

  6. Suzanne

    BARiN, Given Mr. Virgulak’s nefarious background, you would think he would be eager to release the financial data on the course, especially if it is losing money, to keep things on the up and up. He claimed at the meeting that it was all a matter of public record. Where? Some really smart people have not been able to find it. In my opinion, he is afraid of transparency for a reason and, I am sorry to say, it appears to be a dishonest one.

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