By ALISSA SCOTT
Though Amsterdam Corpora-tion Counsel Gerard DeCusatis has said the city's golf commission doesn't have to follow the charter when it comes to appointing out-of-town members, he said the charter does apply when allowing executive sessions.
There is currently a lawsuit against the city, commission and DeCusatis because of the existence of two "illegal" members on the commission, but the attorney has maintained that the Golf Commission is merely an "advisory board" and is not forced to be made up of city residents only.
The commission, however, has decided to exercise its power to hold an executive session -- a private meeting reserved for the board without the public's presence -- in order to interview those who responded to its request for proposals for a new golf professional, concessionaire and maintenance department.
The meetings had been scheduled and displayed on the city calendar for this week, however, commission chairman Michael Bucciferro said he had trouble organizing the meetings for everyone to attend and has pushed them to after the holidays and the new council takes over.
"The reason for executive session, just to be clear, is because each of these people who are proposing. It's a business plan they're proposing," Dave Putnam, a commissioner, said at the last commission meeting. "It's their private business plan. If that process was public, the first person interviewed is getting the short end of the stick. Everyone who interviews after has the benefit of seeing exactly what happened with that person. Final details of any decision would obviously be public."
"Yes, yes," Bucciferro said, nodding his head. "Absolutely. As we make our presentation the council in January, we would certainly highlight all of our discussions and it will be a very simple, easy-to-read document."
DeCusatis said that interviewing the respondents in executive session is acceptable because they will be discussing qualifications of individuals the commission might employ.
"The open meetings law allows executive sessions for that purpose," DeCusatis said. "If they didn't have authority, they wouldn't need to be in executive session at all because their meetings wouldn't be open. If they're subject to the open meetings law, then they have the right to have an executive session."
The state open meetings law does allow public bodies to enter executive sessions to discuss the proposed "acquisition, sale or lease of real property" and "the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation."
Five people have responded to the commission's request -- a strategy to revamp the course and increase profits. According to the past three filed annual update documents, Amsterdam's Muni has underperformed, having had the city bail it out on at least one occasion by transferring money to the commission account from the general fund.
Bucciferro said to combat that, the Common Council asked he and his board to brainstorm ways to improve the course's operations. They chose to open the golf professional, concessionaire and maintenance department positions instead of renewing the contracts currently held with the city.
Joseph Merendo had been contracted as the course's golf professional for more than 30 years, but that contract ended at the end of October and was not renewed.
There have been several efforts to retain Merendo's job, including filing a lawsuit against the city and commission, speaking out at public forums, and holding a "Rehire Joe the Pro" fundraiser which attracted hundreds of people.
Laura Elmendorf has worked as the concessionaire at the Muni Clubhouse, but her contract ends at the end of the year and she has not been notified about whether it will be renewed.
Both Merendo and Elmendorf responded to the commission's request and Elmendorf was the only one to respond for the concession contract. There is still a possibility for the council to ask the commission to request additional proposals and doesn't ensure Elmendorf will be asked to continue in her position.
The other three include: Shawn Bond and Jonathan Hines, who submitted responses for golf professional at the course, and Darren Graf who submitted a response for golf course superintendent of the maintenance department.
Putnam said the interviews are necessary because nothing as proposed is a perfect fit for the course so far. Bucciferro agreed and added the candidates will be asked to go into further detail about what they submitted.
The interviewees won't have an opportunity to offer new ideas and they won't be able to cater their answers to better fit what the commission wants to hear, Bucciferro said, but they will be able to expand on their answers.
"We're all here, I think," Bucciferro said, "to make sure the course sticks around for another 75 years."