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Amsterdam, NY ,



Court sides with mayor

Thursday, April 03, 2014 - Updated: 10:39 AM


FONDA -- Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise ruled in favor of Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane Wednesday in a court case challenging contractual powers under the city charter.

His decision rewinds to the beginning of a three-month dispute about operation of the city's golf course. Sise ruled that the question is not about the awarding of contracts, but rather who can negotiate them.

At one point it appeared the argument hinged on whether the Common Council could assign a city official to sign a contract in the mayor's stead, but Sise narrowed his sights on whom the city charter says is responsible for negotiating those contracts.

"The mayor is given the responsibility of negotiating contracts under the charter," Sise said. "The charter does not designate that power to the council. The lack of that provision is controlling."

Sise said the mayor, as chief executive of the city, is responsible for negotiating contracts, but the council fulfills a checks and balances function to ensure the city's needs are met.

As instructed by the judge, Thane's attorney Paul Goldman said the mayor plans to meet with former Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course professional Joseph Merendo to negotiate a compromise.

"I hope to negotiate in good faith so we can move forward and work in a transparent and accountable fashion for the golfers and residents of the city of Amsterdam," Thane said after the decision.

Originally, Michael Brockbank, the Common Council's attorney, raised the question of what happens after the council overrides a mayoral veto and if that forces the mayor to sign a contract.

Sise did mention that the mayor and council each exclusively have veto and override power, but did not specifically address it in his ruling.

His focus was foreshadowed during proceedings earlier Wednesday, when he honed in on the council's ability to negotiate contracts.

"Where does the charter say the council can negotiate a contract?" Sise asked. "Yes, award; but where does it say the council can negotiate?"

Sise pointed to the Jan. 1 consent resolution that authorized Thane to contract with Merendo. He speculated there must have been prior negotiation before the contract was put before the council.

"And whom did that negotiation, we don't know," Sise said.

The four Republican aldermen said previously they had met to negotiate Merendo's contract before they were sworn in. That meeting led to the unanimous approval of a resolution authorizing Thane to contract with Merendo at the council's Jan. 1 organizational meeting.

Goldman said he just considered that facet during Wednesday's proceeding.

In a memo submitted to the court last week, Brockbank argued that Merendo's agreement is a public contract -- which the council is allowed to award under the charter.

Goldman then argued Wednesday under a public contract process, the aldermen have to follow specific procedures -- including a bidding process.

Goldman said not only did that not occur, the aldermen didn't consider the proposals received by the golf commission in mid-January. They put forth a resolution authorizing Merendo's contract weeks prior, during their first minutes in office.

"The contract didn't just come out of nowhere," Sise said.

Thane did not sign his contract and vetoed that resolution; she said it was not in the best interests of the city's taxpayers or golfers.

Sise said that negotiation is not a charter-given duty of the Common Council.

"The mayor and the city council must work together," Sise said.

Brockbank argued aldermen can negotiate a contract even if the charter doesn't say it specifically, because they have enumerated powers, as in all powers that are not listed.

Thane, on the other hand, has specific powers, Brockbank said.

Sise did not agree.

In his ruling, he said the enumerated powers do not give the council negotiation duties.

Thane and Goldman offered Merendo and his attorney several compromise solutions before the matter hit the court, and were not able to find a compromise.

Merendo has not said how much money he gets from cart rentals. That revenue has been wagered to be split between Merendo and the city, but Goldman said Merendo won't budge.

Sise said he hopes the mayor can "in good faith" compromise and contract with a golf professional.

Though he recognized Merendo's popularity and longevity in the position, he did not specify whether the city needs to enter a contract with Merendo.

Following Sise's decision, Brockbank said he does not know what the council's next move is.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. was not in court, and his fellow aldermen said they have to speak with him before making any decisions.

"We can negotiate," Brockbank said. "We can appeal or we can change the charter. I was hoping the judge would see it in the point of view of the council, but that word 'negotiate' was really controlling."


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