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Golf contract talks a no-go

Saturday, March 01, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM

By ALISSA SCOTT

alissa.scott@recordernews.com

Former Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Professional Joseph Merendo and Mayor Ann Thane are at a standstill as they attempt to compromise terms of Merendo's contract.

The two met Thursday morning; each party indicating they are willing to negotiate, but both said it was unproductive.

"The negotiation with the pro was very disappointing," Mayor Ann Thane said Friday morning. "Mr. Merendo is unwilling to accept any compromise."

Merendo's future at the golf course has been in limbo for the past few months, as his contract expired in November, and has not been renewed by Thane.

She said his contract doesn't support the city taxpayers or golfers at the course.

Thane said she wanted to hammer out a monetary settlement based on revenue Merendo gets from golf cart fees, but he is "unwilling to divulge the net profit, or to consider splitting that share."

For the 30 years Merendo has worked at the course, he has always retained the cart fees. However, according to his contract, he is required to report that profit to the city.

He hasn't in years.

Doug Landon, Merendo's attorney, said there was no specific proposal offered. He said they expected that type of compromise would be suggested, and corporation counsel Gerard DeCusatis hinted toward it, but no numbers were given.

"We were willing to sit down and talk even further about items of concession to try and work this out, but there was no hearing it," Landon said. "There wasn't an interest."

Landon said though he left the door open for future negotiation, there is no future meeting scheduled.

"I don't think the ball is in our court," Landon said.

He said the city is going to lose a "knowledgeable, respected, long-term professional to the detriment of the city."

Because Thane refuses to sign Merendo's contract, the Common Council passed a resolution allowing 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler, also deputy mayor, to sign it in her stead.

There is dispute about whether that is legal, and at the last council meeting, Thane distributed a letter from her attorney saying it was against the city charter.

At that meeting, Hatzenbuhler said she would wait to see the results of the mayor's meeting with Merendo before signing the contract.

Now, she said she wants to wait to talk to the other aldermen.

Thane said she thinks the council should be demanding Merendo's cart revenue reports, as they have demanded other recreational documents recently.

"Ms. Hatzenbuhler was willing to blackball a department head and generous community volunteer over Shuttleworth Park," Thane said. "Why is she not equally strident over disclosure at the course?"

Hatzenbuhler recently questioned Recreation Department Director Robert Spagnola about a synthetic turf project the former Common Council approved last year. She tried to rescind the resolution, and further questioned the motives of a local contractor who donated his services to the project.

"This is selective accountability," Thane said. "On one hand, they want to target projects that are considered wins for this administration and on the other hand, give their friends a free pass. All to the detriment of the city."

Thane said the council's "favorability" toward the pro is "so transparent" and "particularly unsettling."

"I am puzzled why the council continues to advocate for an individual instead of the interests of the city," Thane said. "I can't wrap my head around it. We are elected to work for our taxpayers and we should be held accountable for that. It is just wrong to give this lease agreement away with terms that are so grossly unfavorable to the city. These actions are misfeasant."

Until everything gets figured out, Thane said she's going to take matters into her own hands.

"I am making plans to tend to the needs of the course regardless of the pro's contract," Thane said. "We must ensure there are carts."

She said she's putting up a resolution to accept the cart fees to offset costs associated with course improvements and staffing.

Thane said she will be recommending the rates remain the same. She had hope to lower them because of the "increased revenue we were anticipating," under a proposal submitted by Rich Scott, the golf pro at Fox Run Golf Club. Scott was chosen by the golf commission to take over at Muni.

Scott dropped out of the running because he wanted to avoid the "political fire fight."

     

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