As the rumor mill over at Rye Golf Club churns with questions of potential conflicts of interest and allegations of excessive overtime costs, one city councilman is com- plaining that he is intentionally being left in the dark.
The Rye Sound Shore Review has learned that the golf club, which is owned by the city, has paid out $2.2 million in salary costs over the last 18 months to an outside company, RM Staffing and Events Inc. Of that figure, roughly $400,000 was billed as overtime, equal to more than 10,000 hours over the same span. Those figures come as news to club-goers and even to many members of the club’s governing golf commission.
“I wasn’t happy,” said Chris O’Brien, a golf club commission member who was recently made aware of the mounting overtime costs. “I was absolutely disgusted with the numbers. The information was all new to me.” O’Brien, who has only sat on the commission for the last seven months, believes the entire group was unaware as to the extent of the costs. The issue surrounding the expenditures first came to a head at a Sept. 12 golf commission meeting at the club.
Invoices obtained by The Review only show payroll expenses from the staffing company from Jan. 1, 2011 through June of this year. In 2011, 11 employees alone ac- counted for over 6,000 hours of overtime totaling roughly $240,000 in added costs to the club. The billing invoices obtained also show many of the employees only listed by their first names. Even in January and February, during what is traditionally the club’s slowest time of the year, when the pool and golf course are closed, the club was still paying out on average well over 100 hours in overtime bi-weekly.
In recent years, the club has struggled to stay afloat financially, oftentimes operating in the red. Therefore, the decision was made by the club’s governing body to contract out for services in an effort to cut down on mandated benefit costs. This was done around the same time that the club took over the Whitby Castle operations from Restaurant Associates, a catering company, in 2006.
“This [RM] contract gives the ability to staff up when [Scott Yandrasevich] has the need and not have staff when he doesn’t have the need,” said City Manager Scott Pickup about the golf club general manager. “Flexibility is the key to making that operation work.”
Rye Golf Club was set up as an enterprise fund when purchased by the city in 1965. An enterprise fund is supposed to be self-sustain- ing, meaning the club was to have a balanced budget annually so not to require subsidization through the city’s tax base.
Yandrasevich moved to Rye in the early 2000s, taking over management of the club.
In his budget analysis for 2013, the club is predicting a $60,000 shortfall, and is ready to increase membership dues as a way to try to get ahead of the expected deficit. But O’Brien said club members need to know about the overtime numbers prior to finalizing any budget, particularly since the club continues to raise dues and fees on its members. “We can’t vote on a budget without knowing where these [overtime] numbers are going,” he said.
RM Staffing was established in 2007, and the club began contracting out work to the company in 2008, according to City Manager Pickup. The city manager also verified that a contract exists between the two entities.
According to the city charter, competitive bids are required for contracts involving labor or both labor and materials in excess of $20,000. For purchases not requiring competitive bids, three written quotes are required for any purchase of $5,000 or more.
However, Pickup said the staffing contract is not subject to the regular bidding process since it is a professional service. “It’s like hiring an attorney or hiring Sells [an engineering firm] to provide bid specs,” he said, adding that the city often still looks for other proposals. “It’s not like awarding a construction contract for a bridge. It’s completely different.”
Suzanne Ruggiero-Madeo is listed as the owner of the company, which is located at 4 Nursery Lane. However, Anne Marie Yandrasevich, the wife of Club Manager Yandrasevich, works for the company. Additionally, Scott Yandrasevich is believed to be a consultant for the company as well, according to a source within the club.
In June, RM Staffing scored a food contract with the Oak Hills Park Golf Course in Norwalk, Conn. It is unclear what role, if any, Scott Yandrasevich played in securing that contract for the staffing company.
If the connections create a conflict of interest is something Rye officials have been pondering behind closed doors. The city’s code of ethics, created in 1966, states that, “no officer or employee of the city shall have any interest–financial or otherwise, direct or indirect– or engage in any business, which is in conflict with or might reasonably tend to conflict with the proper discharge of his duties.”
The code also states that no officer or employee of the city shall solicit, negotiate for, or promise to accept employment by any person, firm or corporation with which his or her department, office or agency is engaged on behalf of the city in the transaction of business.
But on Wednesday, City Manager Pickup said that he has other staff members who own companies and there have been instances in the past where the city has conducted business with those companies. In those situations, he asks an attorney to review it, and said the relationship with RM Staffing has already been vetted. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m satisfied and don’t have any reason to question that,” the city manager said.
The concerns have been talked about quietly within the club circles since the summer, with one club member even approaching Councilman Joe Sack, a Republican, to gauge if he was aware of the alleged connection.
Sack then reached out to the city manager in a July 21 email seeking information of any connection between the club and RM Staffing.
However, Sack never received a reply from the city manager and instead received a response that same day from Republican Mayor Douglas French, who said he was looking into the matter.
The two then exchanged several contentious emails in the days following that were sent to The Rye Sound Shore Review.
Sack, who had yet to hear of any resolution or receive any information for nearly two months, decided to submit a Freedom of Information Law request to the city manager on Sept. 13. The necessity of an elected city official to have to formally file a request under open government laws is likely unprecedented in Rye’s history. Elected officials are usually granted access to public documents in their capacity as representatives of the community.
“I don’t know the facts,” the councilman said this week. “I’m trying to get to the bottom of things. I don’t understand why it’s like pulling teeth to get things.” Sack also said this isn’t the first time he has had trouble receiving information.
The councilman believes there can be only two reasons why he is not being answered sufficiently: he is being ignored or there is something about the answer that the mayor and city manager don’t want to come to light.
“I’m not just ignored, which is bad enough. I’m impeded,” Sack said. To date, the councilman said he is yet to receive any information.
In an interview Tuesday, Mayor French said Sack was simply trying to spin an important matter that the city is handling, calling the councilman’s actions “dirty and ugly.” “Rye expects better from its elected officials,” French said.
The mayor said this isn’t the only instance where Sack has made a charge against the mayor and manager, citing several other issues throughout the year.
“I think what you hear from Joe is that regular refrain of questioning people’s motives and intentions,” he said. “For Councilman Sack to say the mayor and city manager are withholding information is mind-blowing. For him now to pull me into this, that’s preposterous.”
The mayor said he has asked the golf commission, which oversees the operation of the club, to look into the overtime numbers, but hasn’t heard back from them. He also said the city manager is reviewing any potential conflict of interest, after the concern was first raised back in July. French noted that potential conflicts of interest have been investigated in the past and found to be without merit.
“If there are situations that need remedy, we will get right on it,” French said
For years, critics of the club’s management have complained of a perceived lack of transparency. Commissioner O’Brien said the transparency concerns are shared amongst a majority of the membership. “People aren’t happy, they are complaining,” he said.
The growing concerns within the club will be raised again at the next golf commission meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 26. A large turnout is expected at that meeting.
Phone calls to club manager Yandrasevich seeking comment were not returned as of press time.