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Free Golfing for Council Members Criticized


OXNARD — Some residents sharply criticized officials Tuesday night for failing to abolish a policy that allows City Council members to play for free at the publicly owned River Ridge Golf Course.

The practice has been allowed to continue despite a Ventura County Grand Jury report earlier in the year recommending that the city reconsider the practice.

"The public is quite interested in this because it's unethical," said Roy Lockwood, a frequent council critic.

Although the grand jury concluded that there was nothing illegal about the practice, it recommended that City Council members review the policy.

Course officials said Tuesday that since the grand jury report was issued in July, council members who use the course have been paying the greens fee, which is about $16 for weekday play. Councilmen Tom Holden, Dean Maulhardt and Bedford Pinkard have golfed at River Ridge in recent months, course manager Otto Kanny said.

But the policy has not been abolished, and critics brought up the issue Tuesday night during River Ridge officials' annual report.

City officials said the golf course turned a profit of about $600,000 for the fiscal year ended in June, during which 85,000 rounds were played.

In January, course officials disclosed that it is policy at River Ridge to allow council members and some former council members to play for free. Holden and Maulhardt, as well as former Councilman Andres Herrera, use the course about twice a month, officials said.

Supporters of the free golf policy said it allows top officials to monitor grounds keeping and service at city-owned River Ridge. Michael Henderson, Oxnard parks and recreation facilities superintendent, said earlier that "there is nothing illegal with the City Council getting free golf--that was the grand jury finding."

Joking that he now borrows money from his wife to play, Holden defended the practice of free play. He said that after playing three rounds recently, he was able to give course officials advice on maintenance and management.

"When I finished, I had comments on how the course was running," he said. "It's like having dinner in your own restaurant. You can't really enjoy yourself."

But City Councilman John Zaragoza and Mayor Manuel Lopez, who say they do not play for free, have argued that it is time for the city to do away with the policy.

"I know I pay every time I play there," Zaragoza said Tuesday afternoon. "The city gets dollars from that, and I like to contribute to that."

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