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Amsterdam, NY ,



Commission change tabled Muni squabble continues

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - Updated: 10:27 AM


The Amsterdam Common Council tabled an ordinance Tuesday that would give it appointment power over the city's golf commission.

The ordinance, proposed earlier this month, calls for an increase in the number of golf commission members from five plus a non-voting alderman, to seven plus a non-voting alderman.

The proposal says the seven members cannot be city employees, and must be city residents who are dues-paying members of the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.

The ordinance also attempts to strip the mayor of power over the commission by allowing her to pick only two of the seven commission appointments; the council would choose the five remaining members, and the alderman liaison appointment.

Aside from commission chairwoman Michele Russo, the remaining four commission members are new; the council passed a resolution earlier this year that forced the commission's former chairman to step down because he was not a city resident.

During Tuesday's public hearing on the ordinance, Mayor Ann Thane said, "I think it's regrettable that you would consider changing this commission at this time when things are finally settling down. The commission is getting a real handle on things up there [at the golf course] and I think it's the wrong thing to do. I think you should be thinking about more important things than switching things up in the golf commission -- there's much more important things to focus on."

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman agreed with Thane.

"We just need to leave [the commission] alone," she said.

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr., who originally sponsored the ordinance, defended his reasoning to the council.

"I listen to all the rhetoric that goes on and it's ridiculous; it's redundant," Barone said. "The only reason I proposed this is not to change [the commission] but to enhance it. It would be enhanced because the mayor would only get two choices and the council would get five, and I don't think that's unfair at all."

"I think when looking at the past, there's nothing being done up there that's going forward in any one direction. I have nothing against the commission, I just think we need a new way, a new start. That's why I've proposed this, you can vote it down if you don't want it," Barone said.

Barone then said he's never agreed with Thane on anything, and he proposed the ordinance to help improve the city.

"Mayor, I disagree with everything you say all the time because I think you only steer in one direction -- against this council, and this council isn't against anything for the city that's going to make it better," he said.

He said he's been a 48-year member of the golf course, and he knows "the ins and outs" of it, and he doesn't believe it's at its full potential, so a change is necessary.

First Ward Alderman Edward Russo, who serves as the commission's liaison, told the council he's against the ordinance.

"I just don't think this is the right time to do it," Russo said. "I think this should be done at a time when we figure out what we want to do with the golf course itself. We need to move forward but I think we need to hold off on this resolution."

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler accused Russo of a conflict of interests because his daughter, Michele Russo, is the commission's chairwoman.

"I would ask that he rescind from voting because it's a conflict of interests," she said.

Russo told Hatzenbuhler she was out of order.

"It's not a conflict of interests," he said. "I just don't think [this ordinance] is timely."

Thane agreed with Russo.

"There is no conflict of interests at all," she said. "[Russo] doesn't stand to gain anything in a monetary way, neither does Michele. Michele is a volunteer, and this has nothing to do with blaming anyone. This is about taking the power away from the mayor's appointing authority and giving it to the council. It's not at all fair, and to present it as so is disingenuous."

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero suggested the council listen to Michele Russo to hear what the commission has and hasn't done to the golf course.

"We have a lot of issues with the golf course that we're working through," Michele Russo said. "A lot of the issues are from the severe winter we incurred."

She said the course has temporarily shut down the greens on holes 12 and 17, because they are so damaged from the winter.

"We're hoping to do what we need to do to get those greens back. We are doing what we need to do at this point in time and at our meetings we're proposing changes as we move forward next year," Michele Russo said.

She said she enjoys working with the council to ensure the success of the golf course; however, she addressed Hatzenbuhler's comment regarding a conflict of interests.

"I don't think there is a conflict," she said. "There have been issues that we have disagreed with this council on, but we're trying to work through them and get two sides of the story."

Barone made a motion to table the ordinance and move it to the golf committee.

"For the 80th time I make a motion to table this," he said.

The motion to table was unanimous.

Three other ordinances were also decided on Tuesday night:

* An ordinance for the placement of stop signs on Locust Avenue at the intersection of Crescent Avenue in both directions was unanimously passed by the council.

* An ordinance for the exclusion of trucks heavier than 13 tons on Northampton Road was also passed unanimously.

* An ordinance for city resident Kasey Efaw of Highland Road to keep four hens in his back yard was unanimously shot down by the council. Efaw went to the council in April asking if they could make it legal for him to keep chickens at his home; however, residents like Gina Kline, the city's animal control officer, spoke out against Efaw's wishes, saying the fowl would pose a dangerous threat of salmonella.

In other business:

* The council once again tabled a resolution calling for a city-wide hiring freeze.

Barone, who originally sponsored the resolution and made the motion to table it, said he needed to do some research after Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis made note that the charter states the mayor is the appointing authority for most positions.

"This resolution, if adopted, would not restrict the mayor's authority to appoint," DeCusatis' note said. "Likewise it will not restrict the controller's power of appointment. It would restrict the police chief and fire chief from filling vacancies in their departments."


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