By ALISSA SCOTT
The Amsterdam Common Council chamber was filled Tuesday night with supporters of "Joe the Pro" and members of the Golf Commission.
A contract with Joseph Merendo, the current golf professional at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, is set to expire Oct. 31, and instead of renewing his contract as in years past, the Golf Commission has decided to seek bids in search of someone to fill the position.
Because of what has been described as the under performance of the course, the commission has considered restructuring its framework based on a three-prong system: replace the professional, replace the concessionaire, and replace the maintenance department.
"People are going to disagree with me, but I have a big heart," 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel said. "We have cards all around the city: 'We have a big heart.' You have an employee that's given his life to the city and now we have to put out an RFP (request for proposal) for him so he can have two more years here. I think that's totally wrong."
Merendo first worked at the course in 1972 when he returned from serving in the Vietnam War, and aside a brief, four-year hiatus during which he switched courses, he's been there ever since.
During his contract with the city, he has built relationships with course members. Many of those, according to one man who spoke during the public participation portion of the evening, will follow Merendo to his next course if he isn't re-signed.
"If Joe is not rehired, take a good survey and see how many golfers are not coming back," said Sandy "Rogo" Roginski, just one of about five people who spoke during the meeting.
Roginski also distributed a petition including more than 250 signatures of people in support of "Joe the Pro."
Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero introduced a resolution to approve the renewal of Merendo's current contract for a three-year period. However, as the last contract's term was for five years, several of the current councilmen were not in office at the time and have never seen the contact.
Leggiero was under the impression that because the contract would essentially stay the same if renewed, it wasn't critical to attach it to the resolution.
The remaining council members and Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis each said they hadn't seen a copy of the contract, and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman voted to table the matter until she and others have a chance to read it.
"I don't have a problem with him keeping his job," Beekman said. "But, there are things that we need to do in decency and order and I haven't seen the contract. I love Mr. Merendo. He has done loads. I would be the first one to keep him, whole-heartedly. But, I would love to review the contract."
Isabel, appearing emotional, said he refused to vote on her motion.
"So that's an abstain, he's abstaining," DeCusatis said.
"No it's not an abstain," Isabel said. "I can sit here and not give you a vote."
DeCusatis said that if he wasn't voting immediately, Mayor Ann Thane should specify a "reasonable" time frame in which he should make his decision.
Thane told Isabel he had 10 minutes. The alderman walked out of the chamber to use much of that time.
Shortly before the 10 minutes were up, Isabel returned and voted "no" to tabling the resolution to extend Merendo's contract. The motion was passed, however, to table the vote until further documentation was provided to the council.
Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi, who is the council's liaison to the Golf Commission, engaged in back-and-forth communication with Isabel, in disagreement with him after he said the Golf Commission should be "ashamed of itself."
"It is unfair to the Golf Commission to say that they're trying to put somebody out of a job," DeRossi said. "This RFP is a three-prong process and we [the Common Council] asked them to look at ways to increase revenue and better manage the golf course. ... I personally hold Joe Merendo in very high regard; however, I also work with the Golf Commission and they have worked very hard."
If rehired based on the current resolution Leggiero created, Merendo would make $24,000 during year one, $24,500 during year two, and $25,000 for year three.
Mike Bucciferro, chairman of the Golf Commission, also attended the meeting, but only said he had spoken with Merendo and told him it was nothing personal and that he hopes he puts in a bid for the RFP.
"Joe came back and said, 'it's just business,'" Bucciferro said, "and then we went our ways."