Eating the Bait

by Joe Fitzgerald

Eating The Bait is the improbable story of Harrisonburg’s Golf Course, and how it came to be, told in a decidedly non-linear fashion by a non-objective observer. The whole sick, sad, silly, sorry, sordid story of the destructive, polarizing, maddeningly frustrating and ultimately hilarious battle over whether a city in the Shenandoah Valley — where little happens, nor should it — should build a golf course. Caution: the story is carefully doctored by a key player to make it more exciting and occasionally uses 4-, 11-, 12, and 7-letter words to express frustration and drama.

In April 1999 the City of Harrisonburg decided to build a golf course. “City” is capitalized here because the phrase refers to the government of the city, in all its majesty and error. The course was touted as raising the quality of life in the city, increasing city revenues, and helping make Harrisonburg a first-class city.

The only real catch, as the City Council voted 5-0 to launch the project and the city staff began making plans and spending money, was that the city didn’t want a golf course. And by “city”, non-capitalized, I mean the people who lived in the city, paid the taxes and owned the government that the council and staff only held in trust. Two polls and an election bore out the fact that a landslide of city voters and an overwhelming majority of its citizenry did not want the golf course.

The City didn’t care. The City knew better. And the city still bears the scars.

My involvement in and influence over the situation went from peripheral to central over the 14 months that followed. Those 14 months are summarized here, in the context of the five days that began with the final meeting of the old City Council and ended with the first meeting of the new.

Tuesday, June 27, 2000: Be Seated: The old council leaves but doesn’t take the contention with it. Somebody’s going to be stuck in the middle.

Wednesday, June 28, 2000: TAGS to CHANGE: Acronyms come and go, acrimony doesn’t. Why don’t we just wait?

Thursday, June 29, 2000: Prose and Cons: A colleague lightens up enough to make me an offer, but the mood continues to darken.

Friday, June 30, 2000: Executive Sessions: Government is like an iceberg in that you only see the top 10 percent. It’s easier to make decisions when nobody’s looking …

Saturday, July 1, 2000: Eating the Bait: … but it’s harder to change your mind if they are.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This article is republished with permission from his Substack publication, Still Not Sleeping.