2017-03-09 / Views

Finally sunshine on golf course statement

Happy Sunshine Week!

Where, you ask, is all the sunshine?

It’s a valid question when asked outside or indoors, where the meaning turns to the level of openness displayed by public officials.

Sunshine Week was created to emphasis the rights of citizens to know as much information as they seek about how they are being governed. In Michigan, it celebrates the state Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts, both of which are designed to shed light on government actions from the halls of the state Capital down to Leelanau’s nine township halls.

Here’s a glimpse of how difficult that can be.

We learned that an effort by the managing owner of Northport Creek Golf Course to avoid paying property taxes recently had been turned down by the state Tax Tribunal. The managing owner had claimed to be a “non-profit” in his appeal because “the revenue received by Petitioner for operating the golf course has been woefully insufficient to even break even let alone make a profit.”

Granting such an exclusion would create quite a loophole in property tax law. There have been some years, dare we say, when the Enterprise may qualify.

The golf course property and facilities were “gifted” by its builder and owner to Northport Village in 2014 with plans by the private business to operate the golf course for the next five years. Judging by the corporation’s own language in its Tax Tribunal petition, the village will soon assume complete control over a financial liability.

Citizens have a right to know the extent of that liability. Acting on their behalf, we asked village administrator Barb Van Voigtlander for a copy of the course’s 2016 financial statement, which course managers are required to provide the village through previous agreements.

Yes, we were told, the village has the statement, but the public had no right to view it at that time. It would be presented to council members at their April meeting, we were told.

So we filed a Freedom of Information Act request for what is a very public document. Ms. Van Voigtlander said she would have to refer the document to the village attorney.

The attorney, by the way, charges by the hour.

Village officials were told by their attorney what should have been common sense — that the village has no right to withhold the document. We were told that it would be faxed over with other documents that we requested.

That was Tuesday.

Finally on Wednesday morning, the sun shone in Northport.

We offer a belated thank you.

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