By ALISSA SCOTT
Though his contract expired Oct. 31, Joseph Merendo, the former golf professional at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, has still made the course's success his main priority.
A small group of "Joe the Pro" supporters have decided to file an injunction against the city of Amsterdam, Mayor Ann Thane and the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Commission.
Merendo, the legal petitioner, signed the paperwork Monday afternoon, and the group acting on his behalf said it will be filed Wednesday in the state Supreme Court.
The group retained Mayfield attorney Ronald Schur, who they said believes the golf commission is performing illegally.
Merendo said he's honored to have such support, but it's more about the longevity of the golf course and not so much retaining his job -- though that is one of the goals of the injunction.
"I'm more concerned with the way they're going about it and for the survival of the golf course," Merendo said.
In response to what has been described as the under-performance of the course, the Common Council requested the commission work to restructure the course's makeup. Commissioners have crafted a three-prong system to replace the professional, concessionaire and maintenance positions.
The commission has released requests for proposals to find those replacements, but the group, of whom include Christopher Sapia and town of Amsterdam supervisor Thomas DiMezza, are fighting to have that process halted until the legality of the Golf Commission can be resolved.
Currently, there are two mayoral appointed commissioners who live in the town of Amsterdam, not the city, according to Sapia.
The injunction centers around Article 78 of the city's Civil Practice Law and Rules. The city charter stipulates that committees and boards are to be filled with city residents. If a non-resident of the city is appointed to a city office, that appointment will require a majority vote of the council for approval.
Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said he doesn't think the out-of-town members pose a legal threat, though he said he had not yet seen the petition to speak on specifics.
DeCusatis said Article 78 applies to public officers and in order to be one, "there has to be a wielding of sovereign authority."
"In many instances, the operation of the golf course has not been considered a sovereign act," DeCusatis said. "It's considered more like a business activity with the municipalities engaged in it."
According to DeCusatis, the golf commission is merely an "advisory board" that offers recommendations of activities, like setting rates, to the Common Council. The council still reserves the authority to deviate from those suggestions.
He said the way the charter is written, there are "gray areas." This, he said, is probably one of those.
Because of those gray areas, the petitioners are seeking to "vacate [Merendo's] petition as golf pro, to prohibit the city, the mayor or the golf commission, or any combination thereof, from terminating [Merendo's] position and/or taking any other action to prevent him from continuing as golf pro."
It also asks those "unlawful" commissioners be removed.
Commission Chairman Michael Bucciferro said he can't speak for the other members, but he was rightfully appointed by the mayor. He said the injunction has "nothing to do with" him.
"As of now, we're still pursuing with out plan to open up the RFPs on Nov. 20," Bucciferro said. "We're just moving forward. We hope to make a decision and present it to the Common Council and hopefully have someone in place by the end of January."
Bucciferro said the commission has received a few proposals so far, and he's conducted several interviews and walk-throughs at the course.
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 had been there until the end of October.
The city has already canceled a provision that would have allowed Merendo's contract to become a month-to-month agreement until another deal is signed.
Countless "Joe the Pro" fans have appeared at Common Council meetings to voice their support. Sapia said he thinks people have become invested in this "because of the love they have for Joe Merendo and all the work he's done in this city for young people with his own money and his own time."
One supporter, Sandy "Rogo" Roginski, has distributed two lists of signed petitions citing pledges of current golfers who will not return to the course if Merendo is no longer the professional.
If anything, Merendo said, this will slow down the process so the commission can rethink its plan.
"I just don't think this is in the best interest of the golf course," Merendo said. "This is going to offer more time for them to reconsider what the future is going to bring."