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Amsterdam council overrides Thane’s golf veto

Members vote to keep pair at course

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
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— Amsterdam’s Common Council on Tuesday shot down Mayor Ann Thane’s plans to bring new management to the city’s Municipal Golf Course, voting instead to override her veto and retain longtime golf pro Joseph Merendo and concessionaire Laura Elmendorf.

But despite the vote, some council members said they’d consider a compromise Thane proposed.

The city sought management proposals in the fall, as Merendo’s contract was expiring, and several people offered plans to operate the 182-acre, 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones.

The city’s Golf Commission reviewed proposals and issued a report dated Jan. 10 stating that the golf course “has been losing money over the past several years.”

Membership had dwindled from a high of 750 to about 390 by 2012, according to the commission.

The Golf Commission in its report outlines several “operational issues” that need to be addressed.

Among them are the lack of daily oversight of course operations, the lack of any significant changes at the course and concession for years, a long wait list for people seeking to store private golf carts, a dated pro shop with limited inventory, over-full trash cans, empty water jugs and a “poor general appearance of the grounds.”

Merendo responded to the request for proposals by submitting no more than the contract that expired Oct. 31. He filed a lawsuit against the city this past fall after getting a letter from Thane informing him that his contract had expired; that lawsuit remains pending.

The Golf Commission interviewed several candidates and recommended the city negotiate with Richard Scott, the golf pro and general manager at Fox Run Golf Club in Johnstown.

The commission in its report suggested Scott’s approach to operations would yield a $50,000 benefit to the city in each of the five years of a contract.

Scott, a PGA course pro for 14 years, teaches about 250 lessons a year, compared with Merendo’s roughly 30 lessons per year, according to the commission’s report.

The commission was impressed that Scott was able to get 75 young golfers to join Fox Run following attendance at his clinics.

Emphasizing women and children as potential golf club membership boosters, Scott’s approach also called for redesigning the course’s website, making use of social media and email, attending regional events and promoting the site in the winter.

After their interview with Merendo, the Golf Commission noted that his revenue-boosting ideas consist of discounting membership rates and implementing a nine-hole rate.

“[Merendo] does not feel the Internet is a useful marketing tool and believes that we should pull money from the maintenance budget to use for marketing,” the commission noted in its report.

The commission estimates revenue from golf cart rentals at $80,000 and retail sales at $35,000 in a typical year.

The city’s 2013-14 budget estimates golf course revenues at $613,151 and expenditures at $624,839, with $11,688 in city funds to balance it.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Thane passed out a proposed compromise to the issue: Hire Merendo as the golf pro, providing him with heath insurance and entry into the state retirement system, and hire Scott as golf course manager and allowed him to pursue his plans for better marketing and increasing membership.

During a brief recess, 3rd Ward Alderman Ronald Barone said he’d consider Thane’s compromise, but a decision would depend on what Merendo thinks.

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero said he, too, wanted to hear Merendo’s thoughts before deciding on the compromise.

First Ward Alderman Eddie Russo said he’s inclined to give Merendo another three years as he’s requested but said he’d consider Thane’s proposal as well.

Thane didn’t indicate what her next move could be. She could simply refuse to sign a new contract for Merendo, setting up court action as the next step if the impasse continues.

The chance that the council will consider the compromise is a good thing, she said: “I think avoiding court and a black eye on this city is the best way to go.”

 
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