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Hatzenbuhler defends override veto, calls compromise offer “sham”

The following “Letter to the editor” was submitted to The Mohawk Valley Compass on 1/23/2014

Dear Editor,

On behalf of the City of Amsterdam Common Council I would like to explain our reasoning behind the over ride of the Mayor’s vetoes.

The common council whole heartedly supports Joe the Pro for this position. Joe has held this position now for over 30 years, yet at no time was he a city employee with a salary, paying into the state pension system or a member of the city’s insurance program. Instead Joe the Pro worked under a services contract to the city/golf course/commission. As such he received a small salary when he began, which has now increased to $25,000.00 for this season,(7 months) bought and stocked the pro shop with monogrammed and other golf items to be sold; leased and rented out golf carts to the public, that did not own their own golf carts. He received the benefits of providing these services along with any private lessons, including the huge numbers of kids that he has taught to play golf. He also employs people to work for him, not the city, in the pro shop and cart maintenance and pays for the cart gasoline at “his” expense, not the city’s.

Joe has done this for well over 30 years, showing up at 6 AM to unlock the cart stowage and close up and lock up at dark. He works the holidays when you are generally on the course, come rain or shine. You could say, he was the first one in and the last one out. A shining example for anyone that worked under him.

Also working at the course in other capacities are the course superintendent, who is directly responsible for the maintenance and appearance of all the fairways, grounds, greens and other properties including, but not limited to the sand traps, which for some reason are filled with gravel. (don’t ask me why, have not found out the answer yet ) He has a staff of several, under 8, who at one time worked for DPW plowing during the winter months and worked the mowers during the summer months. Now those positions are held by summer labor not associated with the DPW in order to cut expenses. These are still all city employees whether full time or part time, but non union.

There is also a concessionaire contractor who has been there for almost 8 years, and under her contract has had to pay for her own kitchen equipment. Her last contract price was a bid for $27,000.00 for the season/year. She was required to pay the utilities and trash pick up which is not required at other city parks.

The Golf Commission which oversees MUNI is supposed to/should be made up of local city residents. Instead, the mayor appointed two individuals that live in the town of Amsterdam with the consent of corporation counsel. That was clearly not the intent of the charter. As a result, a lawsuit to resolve this issue was brought against the city by Joe the Pro. (It is still pending in Superior Court) I have read the charter and while not an attorney, Bob Going, former city attorney and other attorneys are of the same opinion, that only city residents are to be appointed to boards and commissions, unless approved by the council. This never happened, in fact, until one gentleman started speaking regularly at the council meetings I myself was not aware of it. However, once I did some checking and became informed, I too was/am of the opinion that these two non city residents cannot serve on this commission. Therefore they are not legally appointed members of the commission, therefore, the actions that they have taken at the behest of the mayor and in conjunction with Corporation Counsel DeCusatis are not legal and should not be binding. It was based on Attorney DeCusatis’s opinions that the out of city
resident’s were okay to serve.

Therefore we are of the firm opinion that this commission acted “illegally” and did not have the authority to go out for an RFP for a new golf pro, concessionaire, or manager. In fact it has been common knowledge that the mayor has wanted Joe the Pro gone for several years, but could only act when she had a commission that would do her bidding. In addition Attorney DeCusatis’s opinion that the mayor cannot be compelled to sign Joe the Pro’s contract is contrary to many other opinions that have been expressed. In some cases the Deputy Mayor, City Clerk, Controller or another individual has been appointed to sign a contract when a mayor has refused, including but not limited to, one with a fire department!

In the compromise that the mayor offered yesterday, it is a sham. Since Joe the Pro has never been a city employee and therefore not in the state pension system, he would enter at a grade 6, which would require him to pay into the plan for 10 years, before he could become vested. That would hardly be reasonable for a gentleman that had a bout with cancer a few years back and is in his 60s. And since Joe the Pro’s income is not made up of just his salary of $25,000.00, it also includes the fees from the lessons, cart rentals, and the pro shop sales, he would lose a presumably substantial portion of his income. The city threw in insurance a $4000.00 cost.

In addition, the fact that the mayor released the Golf Commissions findings with personal comments about the Pro not being blacked out, there is the possibility of liability for the city. We feel this was done intentionally to further her standing and belittle the Pro.

Some other things to keep in mind: Over 100 people signed a petition that if Joe the Pro was not there, they too would leave. MUNI nor the city could not sustain this kind of loss in this economy, and there is no guarantee that whoever were to come in, would bring anywhere near those numbers. Courses are closing all over the country on a daily basis. Kingsboro in Gloversville was just sold at auction last week for $200,000 for a Sand Pit! We are in a recession that will be on the horizon for at least three more years. Golf is a more expensive sport than others, and right now, the disposable income is not there for the game. Our economy in upstate NY is not healthy and will take some time to recover and hopefully bring well paying jobs. We have numerous courses within a 30-45 minute drive of Amsterdam offering the same thing we are, at similar costs. We have lost population of the sort that can afford to play, either thru a move to the south, poor health or death. While our population may be increasing, it is not of the demographic that is needed to sustain a golf club thru annual fees.

In closing I would like to say on behalf of my counter parts, that this is first and foremost a recreational facility and should not be used to support the general fund. I am sure that had the mayor had her wishes, this contract would have been decided by the previous council, who passed a renewed Riverlink contract, and a renewed Mohawks contract, not requiring of them any of the things that has been requested at the golf course. The Golf Course is self sustaining and is not costing the city money. Its monies are in a separate account, marked Golf Funds. The Golf Commission determines what improvements are going to be made and these improvements come out of this fund, or are Bonded for by the city, but repaid by the Golf Fund, not the city tax payers. It is the fee paying members that are paying to support and maintain the golf course, not the the city taxpayer.

During our tenure it is one of the goals of this council to come up with a template for a contract that can be used for all facilities in the city, so this does not need to happen ever again.

Thank you,

Diane Hatzenbuhler,
Alderwoman 4th Ward

16 Responses to Hatzenbuhler defends override veto, calls compromise offer “sham”

  1. Diane says:

    Why is the golf course not considered an asset of the city that should make money? From my viewpoint, we are paying someone $25,000 to run a business for the city, yet he keeps all the profits. The restaurant has to return money to the city, shouldn’t all the concessionaires? I think the city needs to be more realistic about our finances and start being more business savvy with the few assets we have left. What do other municipal courses do?

  2. steve says:

    diane,
    first of all it was pinebrook that was sold not kingsboro. also you claim loosing 100 members would be the downfall of the course. it would only take 3,200 daily fee rounds to make up for the approximate 80,000 dollar loss from 100 members leaving. i do not think this would be that hard to do with appropriate customer service and marketing. and if half of those members had their own carts it would take even less with cart rentals going to the city. i think it was good to have non city residents on the board because they are capable of forming and unbiased opinion. and please respond to my questions i have asked you, i am really waiting for a good response.

  3. The Council should be looking at the operation of the course and making decisions that benefit the city instead of advocating for a contracted individual. The course is undeniably under-performing yet the Council has not offered a single solution to this decline. They desperately fight for the status quo. This is not in the best interest of Amsterdam.

    My offer was made with sincerity to find a middle ground rather than send this into a costly and time consuming fight in the courts. Cooperation entails give and take. I have done my best to bridge this divide. I see no such effort on behalf of the Council.

  4. Diane Hatzenbuhler says:

    You have raised very valid points, and we will make it a priority to get that information when reconsidering the contracts. The problem at this point, the mayor has gone after only the golf course and has not addressed the same issues at Riverlink or Shuttleworth Park. It is only fair that all contracts be looked at equitably and not just renewed in advance to avoid any discussions with the council. It revenue is sought it should be sought from all venues.

    • steve says:

      diane,
      i am still waiting to hear from you. also you clearly just stated that this decision was out of spite. why would the mayor fight for those places if she knows the council will act the same way as with the golf course?

    • Rob Millan says:

      Why do we keep hearing the unfair comparison of Shuttleworth and Riverlink to the Muni? They’re not the same in any regard.

    • Michael Donnan says:

      The harping that goes on because one concession contract includes clauses that the concessionaire is responsible for garbage pick-up and utilities and another doesn’t include them seems almost like toddler logic- where everything must be perfectly equal and exactly the same .
      The contracts shouldn’t be the same because the concessions aren’t the same. One is a well established institution with a prime location, a captive audience and a significant following that dates well before the current concessionaire started there. The other doesn’t have any of those advantages, it’s much more of a bootstrap situation. When you look to “equalize” them you’re basically giving away taxpayer money to create a childlike sense of “fairness”.

  5. steve says:

    you cant say that you want the same for the other two if you do not want the same for the golf course that is called a contradiction. please let me know you golfing background and experience in golf course operations as well as the other council members. again i am still waiting for you to answer my numerous questions that i have posed to you. thank you

  6. Pete Betz says:

    Another problem is the proliferation of golf courses within a short distance. Years ago there were only the Muni and the Antlers, unless one wanted to go north to the Northampton course by Northville or west to Canajoharie. Now several more courses exist within less than a half hour from Amsterdam, diluting the earning capability of the older courses.

  7. steve says:

    this is exactly why marketing and customer service need to be implemented at muni. currently it is falling behind on almost every aspect. the building is rundown and dated, but i guarantee if they made the necessary improvement to the building that current asset would turn into a huge liability. everyone says its currently self sustaining but truth is that place needs a lot of work and is currently barley breaking even. everyone be scared because 100 people threatened to leave. i say go for it more room for daily fee players who are more likely to rent a cart and spend money in the proshop. the current pro doesn’t feel online promotion is the way to go in a day in age where almost everyone has a smart phone and computer, does that make any sense? also lets lower prices at an already struggling course and change nothing in the operational structure. does that sound like a solid business plan?

  8. David Weaver says:

    It’s extremely disheartening to hear of the council’s recent actions. It has been CLEARLY documented that Merendo (a) oversaw a decline in membership and (b) put forth the skimpiest of plans to resolve this issue and make the course more profitable. In addition, he doesn’t see the internet as a viable marketing tool, an extremely outdated opinion in 2014. The qualities that Ms. Hatzenbuhler champions in “Joe the Pro”…such as being there from sun up to sundown…are little more than the basic expectations I would have of anyone filling this job and are hardly worth mentioning. It seems that the council was more upset about non-residents being on the Commission than anything else and let that distract them from the really important question: Would it be more profitable for the course in the long run to keep Merendo or look for someone else? Regardless of the legality of the commission, its findings were sound. Scott was the superior choice. He has done what Merendo has failed to do, run a course and make it grow. Perhaps some people would have dropped their membership if Merendo wasn’t rehired, but the proven reality is that membership is dropping with or without him…and how many people would really take the extra time and gas money to travel to another course farther away just to show their dissatisfaction with losing Merendo. Scott has a vision: increasing membership, aggressive marketing using proven mediums, reaching out to children and women. Merendo merely resubmitted his old contract. I hope that the council will go along with Thane’s compromise of having both Merendo and Scott…this will appease those members who want Merendo on board without causing our city to lose the opportunity to hire Scott, someone who could repeat his previous success for us.

  9. Municipal golf courses have been on the decline for the past decade. Golf is not as popular as it one was. It makes little sense to continue to pretend that any golf pro can magically bring a profit to the municipality. Just google the topic and you will find hundreds of municipal golf courses in decline, closed or privatized. It would make more sense to do a privatization study. It’s a win-win, the golf course remains, the city profits from water use and taxes and we finally end this senseless annual debate.

    • Rob Millan says:

      So let’s feed into the decline by continuing to support someone who has contributed in part to it rather than buck the trend? That doesn’t seem like a very innovative business model.