incoming (2006-17)

Surface Oil

Whittle Up, Not Down

Our addiction to oil, like a runny nose or a bad cough, is only a symptom of a much deeper social ill. Indeed, our “dirty” addiction to oil pales in comparison to our underlying, seemingly religious devotion to the idea of growth. 

Yep, I said it: Growth is our nation’s dirtiest addiction. Even if we were to accomplish the laudable goal of clean fuels in our automobiles we will continue to see our environmental crises deepen as we continue to build more roads, more subdivisions, more condominiums (i.e. The Woodlands), more strip-malls, and the countless other artifacts that have come to characterize industrialism’s finest frenzy here at the dawn of the 21st century.

This critique goes beyond the clean-fuel debate to address the problematic nature of our modern day environmental movement as a whole. The piecemeal, single-issue reforms that often characterize our new-age environmental hipsters belie the fact that our environmental problems are rooted in a much deeper social structure that is thoroughly and completely anti-environmental. 

While I do not intend this letter to be an attack on the many good-hearted and well-intentioned environmentalists doing work all across the globe, I do want to caution them against their seemingly misplaced enthusiasm.

In the end, we will not be able to overcome the very real threat of our environmental crises unless we begin to address the underlying systems of inequality and exploitation that give rise to our dirtiest addiction: our unwavering pursuit of the ever-expanding economy, i.e. growth. 

Andrew Gunnoe

Whittle Up, Not Down

I’m having a hard time understanding what’s so damn top secret about setting up the mandates under which the golf course is to be run and its management contract is to be bid. It seems simple to me. Identify what it is. Identify the segments of the population most in need of the service who, for one reason or another, are not being served by the private sector. Plan a budget. Run the course. Play golf.

I have a vested interest in the management plan for Whittle Springs. My son is an active junior golfer currently participating in the First Tee program at Concord Park. Knoxville currently has two First Tee programs, one in the city and one in the county. Concord Park is closer to my house. The Wee Course and Beverly Park are about equally far away. In order to teach a junior all aspects of playing the game, all three courses are needed. I take my son to the Wee Course and Beverly as my time and budget permit. Once a child can hit the ball 150 yards, the opportunities to use every club in his or her bag begin to drop dramatically. My son is pushing 150 yards. He is seven years old. Hence my vested interest.

The First Tee program is designed to teach nine core values: sportsmanship, confidence, integrity, perseverance, respect, responsibility, judgment, courtesy, and honesty through the game of golf. It works. It works so well in fact that if this community expects to reap the benefits of this program it is imperative that we incorporate the First Tee and an expanded junior golf program into the management plan of Whittle Springs. In writing. Up front. Including all Knoxville youth regardless of race, creed, sex, economic status, school zone, or First Tee affiliation.

So, “What’s the problem?” you ask. In a nutshell, money and politics. According to sources I spoke with during the course of being a good citizen and trying to work within the system, the budget for the Wee Course is around $600,000 a year. The budget for Beverly and Concord is about $200,000 a year—a total for both courses. Yearly membership dues account for over half the budget. We’re happy to pay them. We wish we could afford more. Donations and grants make up 40 percent of the Wee Course budget. That’s $240,000 a year. The Wee Course does a good job, but does not seem to be acknowledging the job the First Tee of Knoxville is doing or recognizing the seemingly obvious fact that within the budgetary constraints that First Tee of Knoxville faces, expansion to meet the needs of its older members is next to impossible. First Tee at Williams Creek has set itself up to where members of the community have a right to know just what is going on. Where are the tournaments? Where are the tournament players? Who are the faces behind the statistics? Who are on these boards of directors? Are there conflicts of interest? Why is the fee structure based on school districts? The city isn’t even in the school business. Who’s excluding whom? Why is Whittle Springs money going to pay off Wee Course debt instead of going back in the golf course? Why is the city of Knoxville going to such lengths to punish its own citizens for picking the wrong part of town to live in? Why can’t kids from predominately white school districts be allowed to play with kids from predominately black school districts? We pay our taxes too. Why is it necessary to try to fight First Tee Knoxville for funding when it is obvious that by working together both sides could benefit? What exactly are the so-called points of conflict between the two organizations? Are public moneys being spent wisely and fairly? Why is this process being done in secret? Who’s pulling what strings and why? Why is the initial plan pulling people in their prime earning years away from privately owned public courses? Does City Council believe that running private golf courses out of business is a legitimate function of government? Who has pulled the strings to force City Council to rubber-stamp a bad plan? Why does the mayor’s office not answer questions about this subject when concerned citizens call with them?

How are you supposed to teach First Tee core values to children when the people in charge refuse to operate under the same principles? Don’t kids who work under these principles deserve the opportunity to advance their game? Haven’t they earned that regardless of the situation they were born into? Who does building the best junior golf program in the world hurt? How many companies would view the world-class First Tee/junior golf program as a negative when considering whether to locate here? How many people would bring their children here to compete against the world? Do you think they might need to get a room or something to eat? Do you think we might be able to charge them sales tax?

The bottom line question is this. Why, in a time when the golf industry is down, in a time when you are going to have the extra rounds available, would you not make them available to juniors who have earned them? I’m having as hard a time understanding the mentality of our so-called leaders as I am getting answers to these questions. Is doing the right thing so out of fashion that public officials will avoid it when it is the obvious smart answer? Wait a minute. This is a Republican town. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Dumb question.

I don’t have a problem with any of the front lines of the junior golf and First Tee programs in this town. In fact, the job being done at The Wee Course, Concord, and Beverly Park, when taken as a whole is probably the best in the world. But I’m over this penny ante, nitpicking, backstabbing, go nowhere-ing, feuding that’s going on to the detriment of the community, the taxpayer, and the junior golfers. We have an opportunity to build the best golf program in the world at no cost to taxpayers, and it looks like we’re blowing it. Make the process public, (Remember the Sunshine Law?), do the right thing, put mandates for juniors, (and seniors and people using public transportation and anyone else with a legitimate reason) in the business plan. Set greens fees at a reasonable rate so privately owned courses don’t suffer. Have a five-year plan, hold people accountable for quality work, and open up the board meetings to the public. It is not necessary to turn a profit; the public sector is about serving the needs of the community. Breaking even will be just fine.

P.S. Even with mandates it will take three years minimum to fill the available junior slots with enough players. That’s optimistic. The reality is that a strong junior program won’t change a whole lot in the day-to-day operation of Whittle Springs.

Bob Fischer

Guidelines for Incoming Mail