City says no to Joe


A resolution extending the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course professional's contract was struck down Tuesday night.

The decision was not unanimous, as 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel and 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero voted to extend the deal.

The city Golf Commission, at the request of the Common Council, decided to open up the golf course pro and other contracted positions to an open bid competition. Because of what has been described as the under-performance of the course, the commission has considered restructuring its framework based on a three-prong system: Replace the professional, replace the concessionaire, and replace the maintenance department.

Current pro Joseph Merendo first worked at Muni in 1972 when he returned from serving in the Vietnam War. Aside from a brief four-year hiatus, during which he switched courses, he's been there ever since.

Common Council meetings have become a place for "Joe the Pro" supporters to gather, and many of them have spoken during the public participation portion of the meeting.

On Tuesday night, Sandy "Rogo" Roginski, a golfer who frequently attends meetings, passed out a list of about 70 signatures of people who will not return to the golf course if Merendo is no longer the professional.

The resolution extending Merendo's contract was brought to the Common Council last meeting by Leggiero. He did not include a copy of the contract with the resolution and tabled it soon after some confusion was expressed by other lawmakers and Mayor Ann Thane.

Both Leggiero and Isabel said they believe not extending Merendo's contract was wrong because he has devoted much of his life to the course.

"We have to be human beings here," Isabel said.

Several alderman and Thane have noted there have been several problems with the terms of Merendo's current contract being met since it was signed five years ago.

In 2008, Thane actually vetoed the resolution because it did not "protect the interests of the taxpayers." However, she decided to "let this one go" and signed the contract, but cited each of her concerns with the contract in her veto.

The contract gave Merendo a 23.6 percent raise, increasing by 2 percent each year. He also receives a profit from the rental carts.

"We don't know how many rentals there are in a season, because though they have been required by contract since 1985, financial statements have never been produced," Thane wrote in her veto. "We do know that there are approximately 40,000 rounds of golf played a year. If only 10 percent of those rounds of golf involve rentals at $20 a pop, that's $80,000."

Thane said Tuesday she doesn't understand why someone who could be potentially making $80,000 annually is also being given a raise -- or being paid by the city at all.

As stated in her analysis of the cart revenue, Merendo has not supplied financial statements as detailed in his contract.

The deal also is incomplete. Paragraph 28 refers to the contract's ability to convert to a month-to-month agreement after it expires until canceled in writing. Instead of explaining that, it states it "needs to be added." Last week Thane, to avoid any confusion, canceled the potential month-to-month agreement with Merendo after his contract expires on Oct. 31.

"All these problems still exist," Thane said. "I think this requires more work from the council."

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman said the back-and-forth is getting "petty."

Isabel suggested lawmakers stipulate that Merendo is to abide by his contractual obligation and supply financial records monthly and to make the changes necessary to the existing contract.

"If he provides the information, he gets the extension," Isabel said. "It's very simple."

Isabel proposed the amended resolution, but it was still voted down 3-2.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis explained, as he has for the past two meetings, that regardless of whether the council approves to authorize the mayor to sign a contract with Merendo, it does not compel her to sign it.

"My decisions and actions will be made with respect to the taxpayers of the city of Amsterdam," Thane said. "I work for over 18,000 people."

Thane said she invites Merendo to respond to the request for proposal like any other candidate if he so desires.

Last week, Merendo said he has decided to pick up an RFP, though he isn't sure he'll return it afterward.