Battle lines drawn on Amsterdam golf course
Mayor vetoes contract renewals
AMSTERDAM Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane issued several vetoes this week, setting up a battle with the Common Council over management of the city’s golf course.
The council on Jan. 1 approved a three-year contract with longtime golf pro Joe Merendo and a five-year contract with concession operator Laura Elmendorf — ignoring a recommendation from the mayor’s Golf Commission that suggested another candidate take over.
Citing dwindling membership and meager revenues, Thane rejected both contracts and called for changes that could help infuse revenue into the city.
Council members have already submitted proposed resolutions to override Thane’s vetoes, putting a battle on the agenda for Tuesday.
“Certainly, they are not taking the best interest of golfers or taxpayers into consideration,” said Thane, who is urging the council to heed suggestions developed by the Golf Commission.
The five-member council needs four votes to override a mayoral veto. Third Ward Alderman Ronald Barone Jr. said he expects that will happen during the Common Council’s meeting scheduled for 7 p.m.
In an analysis issued Jan. 10, the commission reported course membership had dropped to 390 people by 2012 compared with a high of 750 in the past.
After being notified his contract had expired last fall, Merendo filed a lawsuit against the city, contending the Golf Commission isn’t legitimate because it has non-city residents among its membership.
The Golf Commission reviewed several candidates who responded to a request for proposals and recommended Richard Scott, golf pro at a Johnstown golf course. Scott’s proposal to the city estimates the generation of an additional $30,000 in revenue.
Merendo responded to the RFP by submitting a cover letter and a contract similar to his expired one — leading Thane to believe there’s no plan to boost revenues.
The course’s earnings have been “flat” and the lack of “positive change” in the golf fund will lead to the golf course exhausting its fund balance in five years, according to Thane.
Thane is calling for a marketing strategy or business plan and financial statements. She believes the city could benefit from a cut in the revenues the golf pro earns from renting golf carts.
Merendo doesn’t have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment Friday.
Barone, one of the resolution’s sponsors, called Thane’s goals of turning the golf course into a moneymaker “delusions of grandeur.” He said the golf course is paying for itself, and he’s concerned changes would scare away the limited number of members.
“A lot of the seniors can’t afford it, so they’re not joining,” Barone said.
He contends the golf course has placed revenues toward improvements and earnings from golf cart rentals should go to the longtime golf pro because the $25,500 salary is paltry. And much of the revenue, Barone argues, goes back into the golf carts for maintenance and parts and pays for workers in the pro shop.
First Ward Alderman Eddie Russo said he also supports keeping Merendo in place.
“As far as I’m concerned, he does a great job at the golf course,” Russo said.
Russo said during his campaign for a council seat he heard words of support for Merendo from numerous constituents.
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler, who sponsored a resolution to keep current concessionaire Laura Elmendorf, said she’s “on the same page” with Barone.
“I’d like to see [Merendo] finish out three years, and during that period of time, we can work toward how things are going to be different in the future,” Hatzenbuhler said.
The concessionaire contract approved by the council falls short of revenue generation goals, according to Thane’s veto.
Hatzenbuhler is also concerned losing the longtime golf pro would create an exodus of current club members.
“This is not the time to pretend like there’s a multitude of new people waiting to come into our golf course. Neither can we afford to take the chance that 100 people will walk out and go someplace else if [Merendo’s] not here,” Hatzenbuhler said.