To the editor:
On behalf of the city of Amsterdam Common Council I would like to explain our reasoning behind the override of the mayor's vetoes.
The Common Council wholeheartedly supports Joe the Pro for this position. Joe has held this position now for over 30 years, yet at no time was he a city employee with a salary, paying into the state pension system or a member of the city's insurance program. Instead Joe the Pro worked under a services contract to the city/golf course/commission. As such he received a small salary when he began, which has now increased to $25,000 for this season (seven months), bought and stocked the pro shop with monogrammed and other golf items to be sold; leased and rented out golf carts to the public, that did not own their own golf carts. He received the benefits of providing these services along with any private lessons, including the huge numbers of kids that he has taught to play golf. He also employs people to work for him, not the city, in the pro shop and cart maintenance and pays for the cart gasoline at "his" expense, not the city's.
Joe has done this for well over 30 years, showing up at 6 a.m. to unlock the cart stowage and close up and lock up at dark. He works the holidays when you are generally on the course, come rain or shine. You could say, he was the first one in and the last one out. A shining example for anyone that worked under him.
Also working at the course in other capacities are the course superintendent, who is directly responsible for the maintenance and appearance of all the fairways, grounds, greens and other properties including, but not limited to the sand traps, which for some reason are filled with gravel. (Don't ask me why, have not found out the answer yet.) He has a staff of several, under eight, who at one time worked for DPW plowing during the winter months and worked the mowers during the summer months. Now those positions are held by summer labor not associated with the DPW in order to cut expenses. These are still all city employees whether full-time or part-time, but non-union.
There is also a concessionaire contractor who has been there for almost eight years, and under her contract has had to pay for her own kitchen equipment. Her last contract price was a bid for $27,000 for the season/year. She was required to pay the utilities and trash pickup which is not required at other city parks.
The Golf Commission which oversees Muni is supposed to/should be made up of local city residents. Instead, the mayor appointed two individuals that live in the town of Amsterdam with the consent of corporation counsel. That was clearly not the intent of the charter. As a result, a lawsuit to resolve this issue was brought against the city by Joe the Pro. (It is still pending in Superior Court.) I have read the charter and while not an attorney, Bob Going, former city attorney and other attorneys are of the same opinion that only city residents are to be appointed to boards and commissions, unless approved by the council. This never happened, in fact, until one gentleman started speaking regularly at the council meetings I myself was not aware of it. However, once I did some checking and became informed, I too was/am of the opinion that these two non-city residents cannot serve on this commission. Therefore, they are not legally appointed members of the commission; therefore, the actions that they have taken at the behest of the mayor and in conjunction with Corporation Counsel DeCusatis are not legal and should not be binding. It was based on attorney DeCusatis's opinions that the out-of-city residents were OK to serve.
Therefore, we are of the firm opinion that this commission acted "illegally" and did not have the authority to go out for an RFP for a new golf pro, concessionaire or manager. In fact it has been common knowledge that the mayor has wanted Joe the Pro gone for several years, but could only act when she had a commission that would do her bidding. In addition, attorney DeCusatis's opinion that the mayor cannot be compelled to sign Joe the Pro's contract is contrary to many other opinions that have been expressed. In some cases the deputy mayor, city clerk, controller or another individual has been appointed to sign a contract when a mayor has refused, including but not limited to, one with a fire department.
In the compromise that the mayor offered yesterday, it is a sham. Since Joe the Pro has never been a city employee and therefore not in the state pension system, he would enter at a Grade 6, which would require him to pay into the plan for 10 years before he could become vested. That would hardly be reasonable for a gentleman that had a bout with cancer a few years back and is in his 60s. And since Joe the Pro's income is not made up of just his salary of $25,000, it also includes the fees from the lessons, cart rentals, and the pro shop sales, he would lose a presumably substantial portion of his income. The city threw in insurance at $4,000 cost.
In addition, the fact that the mayor released the Golf Commissions findings with personal comments about the pro not being blacked out, there is the possibility of liability for the city. We feel this was done intentionally to further her standing and belittle the pro.
Some other things to keep in mind: Over 100 people signed a petition that if Joe the Pro was not there, they, too, would leave. Muni nor the city could not sustain this kind of loss in this economy, and there is no guarantee that whoever were to come in, would bring anywhere near those numbers. Courses are closing all over the country on a daily basis. Kingsboro in Gloversville was just sold at auction last week for $200,000 for a Sand Pit. We are in a recession that will be on the horizon for at least three more years. Golf is a more expensive sport than others, and right now, the disposable income is not there for the game. Our economy in upstate New York is not healthy and will take some time to recover and hopefully bring well-paying jobs. We have numerous courses within a 30-45 minute drive of Amsterdam offering the same thing we are, at similar costs. We have lost population of the sort that can afford to play, either through a move to the south, poor health or death. While our population may be increasing, it is not of the demographic that is needed to sustain a golf club through annual fees.
In closing, I would like to say on behalf of my counterparts, that this is first and foremost a recreational facility and should not be used to support the general fund. I am sure that had the mayor had her wishes, this contract would have been decided by the previous council, who passed a renewed Riverlink contract, and a renewed Mohawks contract, not requiring of them any of the things that has been requested at the golf course. The golf course is self-sustaining and is not costing the city money. Its money is in a separate account, marked Golf Funds. The golf commission determines what improvements are going to be made and these improvements come out of this fund, or are bonded for by the city but repaid by the golf fund, not the city taxpayers. It is the fee-paying members that are paying to support and maintain the golf course, not the the city taxpayer.
During our tenure it is one of the goals of this council to come up with a template for a contract that can be used for all facilities in the city, so this does not need to happen ever again. Thank you.
The writer is the city's alderwoman from the 4th Ward.