Count us among the (very) skeptical about Burlington’s insistence that its sudden decision to consider eliminating “Indian” from the name of its Indian Valley Golf Course was just a mundane ministerial decision, free from any political – or, more likely, politically correct – motivation.
The item popped up, seemingly from nowhere, on this week’s city council agenda; first it was up for discussion at Monday night’s city council work session, where council members often hash out policies or talk about long-term issues.
Originally, it was also on the “consent agenda,” of ostensibly non-controversial items, for the following night at the “real” twice-monthly city council meeting.
By the time the meeting arrived, however, it was clear enough the item had raised troubling questions among residents who had questioned the proposed change – first published on this newspaper’s website Monday afternoon – that it became its own, separate agenda item.
So city officials went through the same rhetorical rigmarole (as they had the previous night) in which they went to great lengths to try to explain and justify the name change as a mere “rebranding” exercise.
Which brings up another question of why “rebranding” is even a point of emphasis for a municipal government, or its golf course. More on that in a moment.
The fact that the timing “just happened” to coincide with a national focus on eliminating references to Indians, Indian tribes, or other Native American symbolism from sports teams, in particular, was couched in the typical bureaucratic happy talk about “just” wanting to change the name.
Even though they divulged that Burlington has never, ever, received even the first complaint about the name — and that the nearest actual Indian tribe, the Occaneechi — have absolutely no objection to the description, still, city officials claimed, it would be a good thing to improve the image of the course to change its name by eliminating the reference to “Indian.”
We’re not convinced of the innocence of the endeavor.
We’re reminded of Shakespeare’s famous line, “Methinks thou doth protest too much,” i.e., the more someone claims something is not so, the more likely it is that, in fact, it is.
We also cannot help but notice the assumption that the people who own the course should not be involved in a decision about its name.
Burlington taxpayers are expected to help finance the operations of the golf course, but there was no general public notice about the proposed change. No public hearing was scheduled.
In fact, we guess city council members should consider themselves lucky that they were even asked to ratify the decision that apparently had already been reached by the city’s bureaucrats, who had already changed the city’s website to eliminate the reference to “Indian” from the course’s name even before the topic was raised with city council members.
But even given the chance to weigh in, council members expressed barely a peep of interest, which we suspect residents will find puzzling, indeed.
The fact that city council members, city staff members, or anyone else even put this topic as a top priority for the new year is a rather sad commentary, we think, on how the city’s leaders are prioritizing issues that need to be considered.
But surely the more fundamental issue that this discussion should prompt is the question: why should the city of Burlington, and its taxpayers, subsidize a golf course, of any name, in the first place?
We’ve long questioned why Burlington’s taxpayers should foot the bill to allow a very small group of people to use city-owned links – with a considerable subsidy from the taxpayers’ wallets.
But if we weren’t already opposed to the concept on the general principle, that this is not a fundamental government purpose or service for which taxpayers should pay, city officials provided even more elaboration of why it is such an ill-advised concept.
The whole point of the “rebranding,” if one is to accept at face value the claims of city officials, is to improve the competitiveness of the city’s golf course vis-à-vis nearby privately-owned golf courses.
In other words, government bureaucrats have decided to double-down, trying to use their tax-subsidized operation to put private courses, that actually pay property taxes and many other forms of taxes, at an even greater disadvantage, compared to the city’s course.
We’re also intrigued by the revisionist interpretations employed by the city’s bureaucrats. By all observable and objective measures, golf as a sport is not enjoying the popularity it once had – not nationally, not statewide, and certainly not in Alamance County.
Locally, at least three golf course have been, or are in the process of being, converted into residential subdivisions. Arrowhead in Mebane (oops, we guess that name might not have survived Burlington’s branding criteria, although it was a private course); Quarry Hills in Swepsonville; and Shamrock in Burlington have ceased golfing operations and are being proposed for, or are already converting to, private development.
This year’s alleged resurgence, at least at Indian Valley, is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that it is one of the few places where bureaucrats have allowed people to gather to exercise.
We wonder if private gyms, racetracks, movie theaters, or other congregant locations or even restaurants would have been allowed more flexibility to operate during the pandemic if they had been owned and operated by Burlington’s municipal government.
The city council had, and still has, a far more important issue to consider than simply what its golf course’s name should be. We think the council needs to reevaluate whether it should own and operate one at all. At a minimum, the council should eliminate the taxpayer subsidy that enables it to survive and thrive, unfairly in our judgment, against private courses that actually benefit taxpayers in the cities and counties where they’re located.