Council considers a compromise while sticking with veto override

By ALISSA SCOTT

alissa.scott@recordernews.com

Despite a compromise Mayor Ann Thane discussed with members of the Amsterdam Common Council before Tuesday night's meeting, the aldermen stuck with their decision and unanimously overrode her vetoes in an attempt to bring golf pro Joseph Merendo and concessionaire Laura Elmendorf back to the city's Municipal Golf Course.

The council unanimously authorized contracts with Merendo and Elmendorf earlier this month, but Thane vetoed them 15 days later. She said their contracts do not protect the interests of both the taxpayers and golfers.

However, before her vetoes hit the clerk's office, resolutions to override them were already prepared.

Tuesday night, council members indicated they would consider Thane's compromise, but said it will depend on the reaction of Merendo, a longtime pro who has had much support from the community during the past couple of months.

Thane's compromise suggests a dual system at Muni. She proposed to hire Merendo as a city-employed golf pro, and instead contract with Golf Commission choice Richard Scott as general manager.

The former council worked with the Golf Commission to release requests for proposal as Merendo and Elmendorf's contracts expired. The goal was to find new people to run and revitalize the course.

Membership has drastically declined over the years and because of the course's "underperformance" and alleged conduct by Merendo, according to a report released by the commission; both the city and the commission thought it was time for a change.

Five people, including Merendo, offered proposals, but last week the commission recommended Scott, the current pro at the Fox Run Golf Club in Johnstown.

According to a report, the commission believes Scott has the potential to bring the city $50,000 a year for his five-year contract.

Thane said her compromise would allow for increased supervision at the course, better marketing and an increase in membership and greens fees.

"It lifts the burden of managing employees and the cost of caring for carts and the pro shop from Joe Merendo," Thane wrote. "At the same time, it allows him health insurance coverage and additional benefits, as well as entry into the state retirement system. Mr. Scott benefits from having a popular golf pro on staff."

Diane Hatzenbuhler, 4th Ward alderwoman, and Ronald J. Barone Sr., 3rd Ward alderman, both said they do not think the deal sounds appealing for Merendo.

"I'll talk to him and his attorney and go from there," Barone said. "But, I don't see the pro wanting to be a city employee. I hate to say it, but for what reason? The only thing the city probably wants to do is so they can fire him."

Barone said he ran on the premise that he wanted to save the golf course.

"People will tell you [the golf course] costs money and we need money," Barone said. "Listen, when you're going to start charging people for recreation, we're not doing the right thing. That golf is recreation and I don't care what anyone says."

Barone indicated the Golf Commission is operating under false pretenses and that has much to do with Muni's downfall.

Hatzenbuhler said she hadn't had a chance to review the mayor's proposal completely, but from what she's heard, it will mean a loss of money for Merendo.

"He'd lose a lot of income, first of all," Hatzenbuhler said. "He'd lose all of his cart rentals, he loses the pro shop, he loses everything."

"We'll look at it," Barone added. "Yeah, we'll look at it. I'll talk to the pro. The pro is the one who decides. If he wants it, I'll address it."

The council scheduled a Committee of the Whole meeting for Jan. 29 to discuss the mayor's proposal.

Following the meeting, Thane said she was pleased the council is open to review it.

She didn't say what would happen if the council's decision doesn't jive with her plans.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis issued an opinion earlier this month explaining Thane has authority to refuse to sign the contracts, but that may lead to court action.

"I'm pleased ... that there's the possibility we avoid court," Thane said, "and that we avoid this black eye on the city of Amsterdam, because it would be dreadful to go to court. It would be much better to compromise."

Thane said it is "such a great opportunity" and she would "hate to see them pass this up."

Merendo did not respond to a request for comment.