Letter from former Railside owners influenced council's vote

GIBSON CITY — Mayor Dan Dickey said he has read and re-read a “confidential” letter that was sent to himself and all members of the Gibson City Council by the former owners of Railside Golf Club, and he still cannot see how it caused the council to reject a proposal to give the golf course’s investors $5,000 for planned course improvements.

“I’ve re-read that letter, and I find nothing in that letter that should have influenced the council’s decision,” Dickey said Wednesday. “To me, this is a dispute between the current and former owners and has nothing to do with the city.”

The City of Gibson released the letter to the Ford County Record on Wednesday morning following the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request.

On Monday night, city council members had referenced the letter as the reason they voted 4-3 against giving the $5,000 in financial assistance to the local golf course from the city’s marketing fund. But they would not reveal any contents of the communication, who sent it, or why it affected their vote.

The letter, written by former Railside owner Doug Brucker of Sibley, says it was intended to be kept confidential “between all recipients and senders.” In the letter, Brucker points out what he believes to be “many false statements” that were made by “various officers of Railside Golf Club” during recent council meetings, as reported by the Ford County Record.

After Brucker closed the 18-hole course in November, a portion of it was purchased by the investor group this spring and was re-opened in May as the only 12-hole course in Illinois. If not sold, Brucker had intended to turn the entire course into farmland.

In his letter, Brucker said comments made by Railside investors Guy Percy, Harry Groom and Mike Bleich in recent meetings have upset him and his wife, Tracy, so much that they now refuse to play golf there.

“We are currently in the process of putting our own article in the paper that will give an honest timeline of events and put many of these falsehoods to rest,” Brucker’s letter said. “We are tired of being brought into every conversation regarding Railside and being branded through numerous falsehoods and reckless innuendos.

“We just want to set the record straight. Thank you in advance for your hopeful understanding of our side of this mess.”

Disputed statements
Among the statements Brucker disputes in his letter are that due to a limited timeframe, no inspection of the clubhouse was able to be completed by the investor group prior to the property being purchased, and that after closing, the roof developed a leak.

Brucker also disputed the statement that the golf course was bringing in less income this spring than it could have because it was honoring three-year memberships that had been purchased prior to Brucker closing the course.

“At (a) Dec. 5 meeting (with the investor group), we volunteered a credit from the purchase price to offset the cost of those memberships so they could honor those contracts,” Brucker said in the letter. “Each purchaser of those memberships signed an agreement stating that it was for the original owners only. We wanted those people to keep coming to Railside and, therefore, proposed our generous offer of a credit which they accepted. After two years of experience with this program, we are sure that a huge percentage of play is from these memberships.”

Brucker brought up other “falsehoods,” including:

— That the investor group had to “pay for golf carts and maintenance equipment,” when in actuality they are being leased.

— That a new air conditioning system had to be installed in the clubhouse, when in actuality Brucker had a new one installed in July 2015.

— And that “at the time the course was closed (in November), the clubhouse was supposed to remain open through the winter” and that “the employees were told that until two days before it was closed.”

Percy responds
In response, Percy, who served as the lead negotiator for the investor group on the purchase of the property, said Wednesday that with “27-ish owners,” it  can be difficult getting all of them to know all the facts. Percy acknowledged that Brucker is correct that some statements are not true, and he apologized for any confusion such statements may have caused.

Contrary to Bleich’s statement at a council meeting that no inspection was able to be done, Percy said an inspection was indeed done, just by himself. Percy said the roof leak was also a well-known fact prior to closing on the property, despite Bleich’s statement indicating otherwise.

Meanwhile, Percy said the investor group did indeed “get some credit for the three-year memberships, which was great.”

“But the fact still remains we have over 1,000 people who have them, so they’re not paying very much, or anything sometimes, to play,” Percy said. “We made the decision to honor them and accept that credit, and we’re happy with that decision, and we’re happy (Brucker) gave us some credit. The nice thing for us is those do expire, so it gives us an opportunity to move forward with those folks to maybe sell them some memberships.”

Percy also clarified that he is indeed leasing golf carts and maintenance equipment, but with a plan to purchase them through the lease eventually.

As for Brucker’s contention that there was no need to install a new A/C system, Percy said he did not recall a new air conditioner being installed in the clubhouse before the investor group did so.

No ill will intended
In any case, Percy said he and the other investors certainly did not mean to upset the Bruckers by statements made to the council.  Percy said the investor group is happy with its decision to buy the property and is moving forward with its plans to improve Railside so it becomes a destination for golfers throughout the area.

“We knew exactly what we bought there,” Percy said. “We accepted it; we’re adults; we’re happy with the deal we made.”

Percy said he hopes the Bruckers will both play golf at Railside again.

“We want the Bruckers to be participants,” Percy said. “We’ve extended some privileges to them, and we want to be in good standing with them and want them to feel comfortable coming out and being a part of the new 12-hole layout.

“I do want to see the Bruckers  out there golfing. I like them. Our whole group does. And we’re better off getting along.”

Percy said he is also appreciative of the city council’s consideration of donating toward the golf course improvements that are planned, even though the proposal has been rejected.

“We appreciate greatly the city’s consideration, and we respect their decision and we take no offense,” Percy said. “We know we put them in a tough spot when we even dared to ask for a dollar of the citizens’ tax dollars to make that place a little bit better. And we just appreciate them giving us a little time to visit, and we want to thank them for that.

“We’re moving forward with a good property that’s getting better every week that we put more time and energy into it.”

Percy said he was pleased that even though the council rejected giving Railside assistance, the council did approve opening up the downtown business improvement fund to all businesses within city limits, not just those in the downtown area.

The measure allows the city to grant funds to businesses such as Railside, and Percy hopes the council might eventually reconsider its decision not to do so.

“The golf course benefits the city,” Percy noted. “We’re employing almost 30 people, young and old, and some are good, year-round jobs. And we’re bringing in revenue that spills off to other businesses, so there is a lot of benefit. So we may revisit it in a few months.”

Percy said that if the funds would have been granted, they would have been used to market the course’s sixth hole.

“We’re not going to make or break Railside whether the city gives us a few thousand dollars here or not, but we were really looking to market that sixth hole (by the clubhouse),” Percy said. “We want it to be a signature thing. We want it to put Gibson City on the map, as far as a really great golf hole.”

Reversal of fortune
During a joint meeting of the council’s finance committee and economic/industrial development committee in early August, aldermen informally agreed to give $10,000 to Railside, with $5,000 being granted from the city’s downtown business improvement fund and the other half coming from the city’s marketing account.

But during Monday’s meeting, after aldermen received the letter from Brucker, the council voted 4-3 not to make an initial $5,000 contribution. “No” votes were cast by alderman Nelda Jordan, Dennis Pardick, Randy Wyant and Brandon Roderick. Aldermen Scott Davis, Laura Miller and Susie Tongate voted in favor. Alderman Doug Parsons was absent.
 

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