By ALISSA SCOTT
During a recent Amsterdam Common Council meeting, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said those who believe the makeup of the city Golf Commission is "illegal" can bring a lawsuit against the city at any time.
A small group has decided to take him up on that offer.
Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza is a member of a five-person group who retained Ronald Schur, an attorney in the Law Office of Ronald R. Schur Jr. in Mayfield, to file an injunction against the city.
The contract of golf professional Joseph Merendo is set to expire by month's end, and the city has already canceled a provision that allows it to become a month-to-month agreement until another contract is signed. A resolution to extend his contract was struck down 3-2 last week.
Because of what has been described as the under-performance of the course, and at the request of the Common Council, the commission has considered restructuring its framework based on a three-prong system: Replace the professional, replace the concessionaire, and replace the maintenance department.
The commission has released requests for proposals nationwide to find those replacements, but DiMezza and the group are fighting to have that process halted until the legality of the Golf Commission can be resolved.
"If there are illegal members of the commission, then they had no right to recommend going out for RFPs for the pro shop," DiMezza wrote in an e-mail to Schur.
The city charter stipulates that committees and boards are to be filled with city residents. If a non-resident of the city is appointed to a city office, that appointment will require a majority vote of the council for approval.
Currently, there are two commissioners who live in the town of Amsterdam, not the city, according to Christopher Sapia, another one of the five.
During the council meeting when DeCusatis suggested filing a lawsuit, he explained why he believes the non-city members don't pose a legal threat.
"The commission is basically advisory in nature," DeCusatis said. "It doesn't wield municipal authority, so there's no requirement that it be a city resident."
DeCusatis said one could make an argument about whether the golf commission has municipal authority "if you wanted to."
Merendo first worked at Muni in 1972 when he returned from serving in the Vietnam War. Aside from a brief four-year hiatus, during which he switched courses, he's been there ever since.
Countless "Joe the Pro" fans have appeared at Common Council meetings to voice their support. Sapia said he thinks people have become invested in this "because of the love they have for Joe Merendo and all the work he's done in this city for young people with his own money and his own time."
One fan, Sandy "Rogo" Roginski, has distributed two lists of signed petitions citing pledges of current golfers who will not return to the course if Merendo is no longer the professional.
"Joe Merendo has been a great asset, the golf course is Amsterdam's greatest asset and it should be run properly," Sapia said. "It should be done legally. Do we feel we are absolutely right in what we're contending? Absolutely we do. And I believe our attorney does also."
Sapia said though the injunction is leading with Merendo's story, Laura Elmendorf, the course concessionaire who runs the Muni clubhouse, is hanging on the coattails of he suit.
"We're leading with Merendo because he seems to be kind of the most popular one, but I think Laura, it pertains exactly to the same criteria because she has also been terminated under her contract," Sapia said.
That also goes for James Derrick, the course's maintenance supervisor, whose position also went out for bid.
During the council meeting, Mayor Ann Thane, who believes the contract needs to be rewritten, said she invites Merendo to respond to the RFP if he so wishes.
Merendo said he intended to pick up an RFP, which now has a later due date of Nov. 20, though he isn't sure he'll return it after he reads it.
"We are very serious," Sapia said, "and we have the wherewithal to continue the legal fight should there be one."