City should sell Avalon golf course

Based on its miserable track record as a landlord, the City of Warren should sell Old Avalon Golf Course.

City officials have made pitiful and even corrupt decisions about Avalon at least as far back as 1995. That’s when they wanted to declare it a park to obtain tax-exempt status, thus saving more than $20,000 per year.

Bad decisions: Despite saying they wanted to avoid the tax, the city co-signed a $425,000 loan for the manager at 10 percent interest. If the city obtained the loan, it could have received a substantially lower interest rate. And if the city performed some of the improvements it could have received the tax-exempt status it was denied.

Corrupt decisions: In the 1990s and early 2000s, city officials held charity golf outings but kept the proceeds; used the course’s facilities and gave away its merchandise without reimbursement; and accepted kickbacks in exchange for giving contracts to companies to work on the clubhouse. This became part of an FBI investigation that culminated with indictments, convictions and imprisonment.

The corruption led to a lengthy court battle that resulted in a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court magistrate in July of 2005 to order former course manager Tony Joy Jr. to repay the city $100,000 and pump $300,000 worth of improvements into the course, including the removal of 200 dead trees, new cart paths, drainage and irrigation improvements.

The magistrate also ordered the new operator, John Kouvas, to pay the city $55,000 every Feb. 1 and pay the city 12 percent of revenue in excess of $600,000.

By April of 2009 Kouvas was $55,000 behind in his rent and asked for a nearly 50 percent reduction in the cost and for the city to backdate the reduction by two years.

More bad decisions: In 2011, Councilman Dan Sferra, D-at large, praised the course as a shining model of a successful public-private partnership. That prompted folks to take a closer look at Avalon. It turned out the city hadn’t collected rent since 2008 and was owed $110,000.

Last week, the city revealed that it allowed Kouvas to continue operating without paying rent, and that the tab is now $320,000.

Kouvas is no longer operating the course. He said the city is refusing to provide $100,000 in needed improvements.

It’s time to give up. Towns across America are able to operate municipal golf courses and provide their residents, especially youth, to enjoy one of our great pastimes regardless of income barriers. Not Warren. Its history of mismanagement and corruption when it comes to Avalon proves it must unload the property.