Ex-Riverside Golf restaurant manager sues city

Tell me another one: A sign posted at Riverside Municipal Golf Course. (photos/Chris Busby)

Ex-Riverside Golf restaurant manager sues city 
Claims liquor law, drug violations at city-owned course

By Chris Busby

The former manager of the restaurant and bar at Riverside Municipal Golf Course has taken legal action against the city, claiming her lease to operate The Eagles Nest was unfairly terminated last fall after just five months. The manager, Kathleen Joyce, is seeking about $45,000 in damages for lost earnings and legal fees. The parties are still negotiating a settlement.

The case has raised questions concerning liquor law violations and enforcement at the city-owned golf course and bar/restaurant. Joyce’s lawyer, former city attorney David Lourie, has charged that the city council is applying a double standard: turning a blind eye to booze violations on city property while cracking down on violations at privately owned bars and restaurants in Portland. 

The dispute between Joyce and city officials has gotten quite nasty. The general manager of the course, Nancy Geer, claims Joyce did a poor job operating The Eagles Nest and was rude to customers. For example, Geer claims Joyce told a club member who ordered a Michelob Ultra that “only fags and fat people drink Ultra.” Joyce vehemently denies making that comment.

Joyce has also been criticized by Geer and others for refusing to serve customers more than four or five beers at a sitting, and for raising a stink over plans to serve alcohol in non-approved areas during two tournament events last summer. 

Joyce counters that she simply tried to run The Eagles Nest according to state liquor laws, which she claims are openly and routinely disregarded on the golf course – where alcohol consumption is prohibited – and elsewhere on the property. After Joyce cried foul over a plan by other parties to serve alcohol in outdoor tents during last summer’s Maine Open, state liquor inspector Dan Smaha wrote Geer a letter warning that such unlicensed alcohol service could be a violation.

Geer “said the guys complained that after four or five beers from me, I’d shut them off,” Joyce said. “They’d been drinking all day on the course. I’m not going to serve someone who’s hammered. That’s breaking the law.”

Joyce also said some golfers have been consuming cocaine on the course and in the clubhouse bathroom. She said an Eagles Nest employee who socialized with these customers was hospitalized following a coke binge. 

“There’s sort of what I call a ‘coke connection'” at Riverside, Joyce said. She said she informed Geer of this issue, and that Geer told her she had called drug enforcement officials and had “taken care of the coke problem.”

Geer could not be reached for comment. City attorney Gary Wood was also unavailable for comment before this article was posted. 

City officials reached for this story generally declined to comment on Joyce’s brief tenure at The Eagles Nest, citing the ongoing litigation. But they all said they have never witnessed any alcohol or drug use at the course.

Those officials include City Councilor Will Gorham, a regular player at Riverside, and city Parks and Recreation Director Denise Clavette, who also golfs there. The golf course is part of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Told of Joyce’s comments about cocaine use, Clavette said she has never observed or heard of such activity, and added that “if there’s been any allegation to that effect, I’m shocked it hasn’t reached my level.” 

Joyce made the drug allegations during a recent interview with The Bollard. The allegations were not among comments contained in documents related to the lease dispute provided to this publication.

Several golfers who play at Riverside were contacted by The Bollard and asked if they have ever observed alcohol use on the course. Speaking anonymously, given the legally sensitive nature of the topic, they all said they have seen drinking there. “It’s par for the course,” one quipped. Another noted that drinking is less common during the day than during evenings, when leagues play the course beginning at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

In his letter to Geer last August, liquor inspector Smaha wrote, “I’ve witnesses golf-club garbage-cans full of empty beer-cans, etc.” The Eagles Nest did not serve canned beer, Joyce said – only bottles. 

There are two courses at Riverside: the 18-hole North Course and the nine-hole South Course. The courses are patrolled by volunteer park rangers, but Joyce said these volunteers do not actively enforce the alcohol ban. 

Clavette said there are no plans to modify the alcohol policy at Riverside. Geer is quoted in documents related to the case as having said that Eagles Nest customers “rarely drove home drunk” in the past.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a pervasive violation of state liquor rules at the golf course,” said Lourie. In a Jan. 12 letter to the council’s Public Safety Committee, Lourie called it “ironic” that the city was then considering reducing the number of bars in the Old Port due to alcohol-related problems “while the City ignores the permissive attitude of its own staff toward state liquor laws at Riverside Golf Course.” 

The golf course opened March 30, but the ongoing legal proceedings have delayed and complicated the process of opening The Eagles Nest. The restaurant and bar may open on May 1 under new management selected by the city without a competitive bidding process, contrary to past practice. 

Clavette said the bidding process was eschewed this year due to the protracted litigation with Joyce. 

The city may also be sidestepping its practice of seeking a recommendation from the Portland Police Department before awarding a liquor license. 

The city-selected applicant, Edward “Ted” Everest, was convicted of driving under the influence in Portland less than five years ago, according to police documents. He has no other recent convictions on record, but the police department has routinely recommended that the council deny liquor licenses to applicants recently convicted of drunk driving. There is no indication that the city solicited a recommendation in this case. Portland Police Lt. Janine Roberts, the officer who handles these recommendations, could not be reached for comment before this article was posted.

Everest’s application to serve beer, wine and liquor at The Eagles Nest will mostly likely be considered at the council’s April 19 meeting. (It was scheduled for the April 3 council meeting, but Everest is out of town.) 

Everest applied to run The Eagles Nest last year, but withdrew his bid after Joyce called attention to what she claimed were inconsistencies with his application. Everest acknowledges that he withdrew his bid, but said the discrepancies Joyce brought up concerning his previous restaurant experience were trivial.

“The whole thing is just crazy,” he said. “The city really messed up. They gave [The Eagles Nest lease] to her and they shouldn’t have. She became confrontational with everyone.”

Everest said he hopes to reopen The Eagles Nest on May 1, but said the city still needs to complete some major maintenance projects on the building. “They haven’t painted it. It still looks like hell,” he said. “They haven’t taken care of a lot of things they should take care of, not only from a safety standpoint, but appearance.”

Joyce had similar complaints about the state of the property.

Everest has golfed at Riverside many times, and said he has not seen people drinking on the course. In his opinion, however, they should be allowed to. 

“It should be legal,” he said by phone from Florida, where he is on vacation. “That’s part of what you should be offering the people…. That way they do it legally, and not out of their [golf] bag.”

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