Two former top officials in the Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department face fines for failing to report thousands of dollars in free gifts from the operator of the Bennett Valley Golf Course.
Marc Richardson, director of the department until his retirement in December, and Rich Hovden, parks development manager until his retirement in February, are set to be fined next week by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. Both men's retirements were unexpected.
The longtime city employees are accused of failing to report gifts they received from the operator of the city golf course in excess of $50 in violation of city rules. The gifts included free rounds of golf, free access to the driving range, free cart use, free lessons and merchandise discounts, according to the FPPC.
A May 16 FPPC agenda indicates that Richardson is facing a $6,500 fine, while Hovden is facing a $3,000 fine.
Richardson also is accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws by accepting gifts from the golf course operator, Bob Borowicz, while he was negotiating a new contract with Borowicz, a contract he then recommended for approval to the City Council.
"These are very troubling issues, there is no doubt about it," City Manager Kathy Millison said.
Millison said she became aware of the problem last fall around the time the prior year's budget figures were finalized and showed continuing losses at the course. The 18-hole course was built in 1969 with city funds but is run as a separate enterprise sustained by green fees and other revenue.
The course, like many in the nation, has suffered in recent years as the economy left people with less disposable income and interest in the sport has slipped.
Millison declined to say how she learned of the gifts or divulge details of her investigation, calling it a personnel matter.
"Once I became aware, I did look into everything and took the necessary corrective action," Millison said.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he understood the city received an anonymous "poison pen" letter alleging department heads were receiving free rounds of golf. He said he couldn't talk about it further because it was a personnel matter. All the council was told was that it had been taken care of, he said.
"It's her job to manage people," Bartley said. "It's our job to manage her."
The city hired a private investigator who quickly determined through interviews with Borowicz, Richardson and Hovden that the free play had been going on for years, Borowicz said.
City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the investigation and resulting report are confidential because they involve a personnel matter. The investigation was performed by Kevan D. Kurt & Associates of Santa Rosa, who charged the city attorney's office $702 for the work, according to city records.
Millison informed Richardson and Hovden that they would need to repay Borowicz for the golf rounds, lessons and other benefits, and they did so in December.
Records show that Richardson repaid Borowicz a total of $5,324, most of it on Dec. 11. He retired 11 days later after 27years of service.
The gifts Richardson listed receiving included three free lessons from Borowicz, discounts on hundreds of dollars of golf clubs, balls and apparel and numerous free rounds of golf over six years.
Records show Hovden paid back $4,212.25. On his revised FPPC form, Hovden indicates the gifts were for "cart use, course use, range use, merchandise discount" between 2007 and 2012, and that the gifts were repaid in December.