A former superintendent of Madison’s Park Division testified that he was one cog in a group effort that led the City Council to vote in 2012 against renewing four golf pros’ contracts to run the city’s golf shop operations for another five years.
Kevin Briski’s testimony that he relied on four other city officials to help make the recommendation to replace the pros with cheaper help differed from what the golf pros said on the witness stand. They are suing the city for unlawful termination of their contracts and testified during their civil trial this week that Briski lied to Mayor Paul Soglin and bullied others in his quest to make sweeping changes to the city’s golf course operations.
Briski said three staff members from the Parks Division and one from Soglin’s staff all agreed in early October 2012 that proposals made by the golf pros to operate the courses did not help make the courses less reliant on tax dollars. “So the overall recommendation was to not move forward with those proposals,” Briski testified.
The lawsuit filed by former Odana Hills pro Tom Benson, Monona Golf Course pro Rob Muranyi, Yahara Hills pro Mark Rechlicz and Glenway pro Bill Scheer was ordered to go to trial by the Wisconsin Supreme Court as part of a landmark ruling in June 2017. The court ruled that the pros’ contracts were “dealerships” under the Wisconsin Fair Dealership law and could be terminated by the city only for cause. The city must prove to a jury that it had good cause to fire the pros and that it gave them proper notice.
The golf pros are seeking $2.3 million in lost income.
Briski testified from Melbourne, Florida, on July 5 and the recording was shown during the trial Friday afternoon as the defense began presenting its case. Briski resigned from his position with the city in 2014 to take a similar position in Melbourne.
During questioning from the attorney representing the city, Evan Tenebruso, Briski testified that his division began exploring potential options to increase golf course revenues after the Parks’ then-finance manager, Eric Knepp, produced a report in March 2012 that said the course’s funds saw a nearly $1 million depletion in resources over a five-year period ending in 2008.
Quoting the report, Tenebruso said “the troubling part of this depletion was that the final $478,000 was cash that the fund didn’t have.” That meant that money from the city’s tax dollars were needed to pay the golf courses’ bills.
“It was a concern for the whole city,” Briski testified.
Briski also testified that he presented Knepp’s report to Soglin and began discussing options for fixing the problems with his staff and then with Soglin and his staff. He testified that options included continuing to contract with the pros, lease the maintenance and possibly the clubhouses operations to an outside group or have the city run the entire operation.
“There was no conclusion (to remove the pros at that point),” Briski said. “It was the start of the process.”
While Briski met with city officials about the process, he testified that he didn’t meet with the pros until Aug. 1 to discuss having them submit proposals. He testified that he was looking for ideas from the pros to help increase revenues. “I wanted to get their input. ... Maybe they were seeing something that we hadn’t at that point,” he said.
Briski also testified that he sensed optimism from the pros during the meeting.
During cross-examination, Briski wasn’t as forthcoming in answering questions, and the golf pros’ attorney, Kevin Palmersheim, often reminded him of his answers to the same questions during a 2014 deposition. He agreed that he testified during his deposition that he gave the golf pros no parameters to work with when he asked them to make their proposals.
Briski testified that he never put together any numbers projecting revenues or expenses for 2013 and was unaware of any projections prior to an email he sent to city officials with his recommendation in October 2012.
Soglin testified Wednesday that the recommendation’s projections of $345,000 in revenues for 2013 was one reason why he added it to his proposed 2013 budget.