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Thursday, November 27, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
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Muni compromise is a no-go

Thursday, January 30, 2014 - Updated: 10:17 AM

By ALISSA SCOTT

alissa.scott@recordernews.com

Instead of accepting the compromise Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane proposed last week, 3rd Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. offered his own plan Wednesday -- to be the general manager of the city's Municipal Golf Course.

"I'm there all the time anyway," Barone said after a Common Council committee meeting. "I have no problem doing that. I'm here to help the city. You think I want to hurt a taxpayer? No. I'm here for the taxpayers."

During its first meeting of the year, the Amsterdam Common Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Thane to sign contracts with Joseph Merendo and Laura Elmendorf, the former golf pro and concessionaire, respectively.

Thane vetoed the resolutions 15 days later. And then the council overrode the vetoes.

Dissatisfied, Thane issued a "compromise" solution at a Common Council meeting last week.

It suggested a dual system at Muni: a contract with Golf Commission choice Richard Scott as general manager, and the hiring of Merendo as a city-employed golf pro.

A former Common Council worked with the Golf Commission to release requests for proposals as Merendo's and Elmendorf's contracts expired last year. The goal was to find new people to operate and "revitalize" the course.

According to a report released by the Golf Commission, membership has drastically declined over the years because of the course's "under-performance," and alleged conduct by Merendo.

Five people, including Merendo, offered proposals, but earlier this month the commission recommended Scott, the current pro at Fox Run Golf Club in Johnstown.

Thane said her compromise would allow for increased supervision at the course, better marketing, and an increase in membership and greens fees.

The council decided not to discuss the proposal during that meeting, but pushed it to Wednesday night's committee meeting, where they shot it down.

"You asked me to talk to the pro [Merendo], and I'll tell you exactly what the pro and his lawyer said," Barone said. "They don't want the deal."

That's when Barone made his suggestion.

"I'll make a compromise with the council," Barone said. "I would like this board to appoint me to the golf course, and I will be there and sit with the pro. I will sit with Laura. I will sit and have it all explained to me, and I'll bring a report back every two weeks to this council as to what we're doing, and where we're going."

Barone said if the council allowed him to take the position, he would not be a city employee.

"I would like to do a favor for everybody," Barone said. "I would do it for nothing. For absolutely nothing. I don't want anything. I don't want recognition. I don't want a dime. All I want to do is make sure that golf course is running good."

Thane asked if Barone had a strategy for revenue generation, and Barone nodded his head.

"I am very uncomfortable with this, because you are not offering an actual plan," Thane said. "You are just saying you'd like to be up there watching what's going on. ... I would say that this situation, with the bottom line being the golf course is losing money, it is sucking off of its fund balance."

She said she "cannot fathom" why the council won't consider her offer.

"This is a good deal for Joe," Thane said. "Honestly, I have his financial statements from a couple years ago, and if these are correct in what he was saying, he was making $12,000 [a year.]"

Thane's compromise offers Merendo a $25,500 salary as a city employee, to be protected by Civil Service law, with benefits of health insurance and workman's compensation.

"I'm offering a situation where ... he can call his own hours," Thane said. "He will be protected as a city employee. He cannot be let go at will. He will be protected."

Thane said she talked with Merendo's lawyer, and said she'll feel more comfortable when she hears back from him directly.

"This is a good deal for Joe Merendo," Thane said. "It's a good deal for the city, and it's a good deal to bring on Rich Scott. I just don't understand your position here. It is for the best of everyone involved.

"Otherwise, we are at impasse," Thane continued. "Joe Merendo won't have a signed contract. Payments cannot be made out of the controller's office, because there will be no signed contract, and you just put a black eye on the city."

Diane Hatzenbuhler, 4th Ward alderwoman, said the council has the authority to pass a resolution authorizing the city clerk or the controller to sign a contract. She said they can also direct the controller to make payments to Merendo.

"As I understand it," Hatzenbuhler said to Thane, "you have a ministerial duty to sign the contract, and as a ministerial duty, anybody can do it.

"We will have a signed contract for Joe to continue on for three years as the pro," Hatzenbuhler said. "You can continue to stonewall and veto all you want. But, we will move ahead with this."

Edward Russo, 1st Ward alderman, said he wants to come to an agreement. He said the council has more important things to work on, such as starting the city's budget, and continuing efforts to straighten the city's books.

"You sit here and you listen to the back and forth to the mayor to the council, to the mayor to the council," Russo said. "I'm tired of picking up the newspaper, looking and all you see is 'Mayor vetoes the golf contract,' 'The council approves it.' We all look like jerks. This is crazy ... We got better things to worry about than the golf pro. I rest my case."

Thane believes this is another case of the council disregarding her opinion. She said she is not in favor of Barone as general manager, as he has no plan, and is fighting for "status quo, a strategy that has slipped this course into a downward spiral for years."

"There was no discussion of the compromise or the merits of Mr. Scott's offer, which implies again that they had come to the chamber with their minds made up," Thane said. "Committee meetings are supposed to be about the sharing of information and a democratic exchange of ideas. This was anything but that."

Thane said all they're worried about is one individual instead of the golf course operation.

"Any touted willingness to work with this administration is clearly not true," Thane said. "This is such poor governance ... Their intentions are not transparent. They are Technicolored."

     

Comments made about this article - 1 Total

Posted By: Disgruntled Resident On: 1/30/2014

Title: Council An Embarrassment

Councilpersons bickering over the golf course to further their personal agendas is an embarrassment. I personally don't care who runs the place, but in the "real world" if a business is failing or not driving revenue, the person in charge gets fired. He doesn't get to keep his job just because he's a "nice guy". Why should this golf course be an exception? If I were the Mayor, I wouldn't offer him anything but walking papers. This whole thing is a huge embarrassment and yet another example of the kind of thinking that keeps this city from moving forward. Get over it, move on and do the city's business.

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