Council agrees to an override, then decides to wait and see

By ALISSA SCOTT

alissa.scott@recordernews.com

The Amsterdam Common Council gathered for a special meeting Tuesday night to override a mayoral veto. The motion was against a resolution authorizing Deputy Mayor Diane Hatzenbuhler to sign a contract with former golf pro Joseph Merendo.

Mayor Ann Thane met that override, which was passed by the Republican majority 4-1, with a signed letter from her newly hired attorney, Paul Goldman.

"I have a letter from my attorney stating that if you attempt to sign that contract," Thane said to Hatzenbuhler, "it is an illegal act. I would caution that we not be precipitous in our actions."

Thane said she plans to meet with Merendo and his attorney this week and the aldermen should wait to see the results.

The mayor has not signed Merendo's contract, saying it does not support the city's taxpayers or the golfers at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.

"There has been no accountability at that course," Thane said.

Hatzenbuhler attempted to call a caucus of the Republican aldermen to discuss the mayor's letter, because she said she only received it an hour prior and hadn't had a chance to review it.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. asked, "So what?" and Hatzenbuhler dropped the motion.

Barone suggested the council pass the resolution and wait to see the outcome of the mayor's meeting with Merendo.

"I just want to go forward with this," Barone said.

First Ward Alderman Edward Russo asked if the mayor's attorney will be paid with city tax dollars.

"I'm using tax dollars to protect tax dollars," Thane said.

Funding for her attorney comes from a line item in the corporation counsel's budget that is used for hiring outside counsel. It's the same line item the council would use should it need to hire an outside attorney.

Goldman's letter explained his position on Hatzenbuhler signing a contract in the mayor's stead.

"I have been advised that you are attempting to circumvent the mayor's express statutory authority to negotiate and approve a contract for lease of real property known as the Pro Shop and storage sheds at the city of Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course," Goldman wrote.

He said, "as you are aware," the council's powers are limited to the award of "all public contracts subject to applicable law."

First, Goldman wrote, the contract with Merendo is not a "public contract," as per the city charter. He said the charter "clearly states" that mayoral approval is required for any sale or lease of real property.

"Moreover, the Common Council does not have the power to ignore the city charter, which requires the approval of the mayor for the sale of real property or the execution of a contract," Goldman wrote.

He said, "quite simply," the council has "no power to independently negotiate or enter into a contract on behalf of the city of Amsterdam without the express approval of the mayor."

"The current attempt, and any future attempts" of the Common Council to override the mayor's veto constitute illegal and ultra vires actions," Goldman said. "Therefore, the execution and delivery of the subject agreement by the deputy mayor is a nullity."

"Ultra vires" means the aldermen are attempting to perform an action that is out of their powers given by the city charter.

Hatzenbuhler then questioned Thane's choice of attorney.

"This attorney," Hatzenbuhler said, looking at Thane, "what firm is he with?"

Thane referred Hatzenbuhler to the letterhead where it reads Paul Goldman of Goldman Attorneys PLLC in Albany.

"Yes, and has he done work with the city before?" Hatzenbuhler asked.

Thane said he hadn't specifically worked with Amsterdam, but has done municipal work -- the reason she chose him.

Hatzenbuhler asked if the attorney was someone she discovered through the New York Conference of Mayors.

"I find your questions inappropriate," Thane said. "It doesn't matter how I found him; he's my attorney."

However, she said, she did not find Goldman through NYCOM.

Following the meeting, Hatzenbuhler said she doesn't plan to sign the contract until she hears back from the mayor's meeting with Merendo.