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Politics trumps fiscal responsibility in Common Council’s Muni stance

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© iStock/MelenUluturk

The three new Republican Common Council members all ran on a platform of improving fiscal responsibility in dealing with Amsterdam’s finances. However if the council goes ahead with it’s veto override in regards to Municipal Golf Course contracts, it will be a political victory for the Republicans, but a loss for the taxpayers.

Republicans have traditionally championed the concept of competition within the free market system as a main ingredient in the recipe for economic growth. I believe this as well. That’s why it’s baffling to me to see the Republican dominated council steering us in the exact opposite direction, especially as the very first major issue they’ve dealt with this year.

According to the Executive Summary included in Mayor Ann Thane’s veto letter, the RFP for the position Course Professional/General Manager preferred by the Mayor and the Golf Commission projects an additional revenue stream of at least $50,000 per year for the life of the 5 year contract. The long-time Course Pro’s RFP contains nothing of the sort. I haven’t heard an argument yet from the Republicans disputing the income projections or the proposed business plan in the preferred RFP. Basically their argument boils down to “Joe’s a nice guy, let’s keep him.” I hardly think this is the type of fiscal responsibility that voters expected of them.

The Council’s stance so far has sent a clear political message: Republicans are in charge now. Political maneuvering is a necessary evil sometimes, but when it comes at the expense of taxpayers, thinking people of any party persuasion need to speak out. I believe this is one of those times.

There is one perspective that has been brought up in the comments of The Compass by supporters of keeping the current Course Pro that I believe deserves some additional thought:  that the Muni brings benefits to the community beyond revenue. I couldn’t agree more with that. I don’t think anyone minds if Arnold Ave or Kirk Douglas parks don’t generate profits. We don’t expect them to. They benefit the community by improving our quality of life. While Riverlink Park and Veteran’s Field have the potential to bring in revenue, their benefit to the community is also understood be primarily cultural and recreational. The golf course certainly benefits our community in the same way. (I certainly hope these same folks remember this concept when issues surrounding the new pedestrian bridge come up.) However, I don’t think that argument is grounds for purposely nixing a plan that could benefit the taxpayers by a total of $250,000 over 5 years.

While we’re comparing parks, let’s talk about Shuttleworth Park for bit and the baseball team that utilizes it. I’m not aware of any numbers that prove the park is making a profit or not, but we should take a look at the job Brian Spagnola, General Manager of the Amsterdam Mohawks is doing there*. When baseball season starts, you can’t drive anywhere in Amsterdam without knowing when the next game is because there are signs everywhere. The Mohawks promote their events through every media outlet and make full use of their website, Facebook and Twitter to get their message out and build their fan base. They regularly hold special promotions and events. Over the past years, they have built up a large network of local, regional and national sponsors. They make full use of their facilities by offering to host birthday parties and other special events.

To be clear, the Amsterdam Mohawks are not owned and operated by the city, so we can’t make a direct comparison. But in my opinion, the job they do sets a great example as to the level of effort we should expect from our Course Pro. I believe the golf course has huge untapped potential. For the sake of the taxpayers, the Common Council should not squander that potential for the sake of political gain.

* Disclosure: Anthem Websites Inc, publisher of The Mohawk Valley Compass, provides web site services to the Amsterdam Mohawks.

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About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

40 Responses to Politics trumps fiscal responsibility in Common Council’s Muni stance

  1. Bill says:

    The golf course, while clearly a public entity, is defended by its ‘membership’ (and now the GOP CC) as ‘theirs’ to do with as they please public benefit be damned. Shaking that death-grip on an asset that belongs to each and evety city resident is probably going to take a public referendum, the success of which will depend on turning out a vote above and beyond the old guard that defends the status quo.

  2. Don’t let the Mayor’s executive summary fool you. The golf pro showdown has little to do with fiscal responsibility and everything to do with a power struggle. A proposal is just that, to conclude that it will increase revenue is conjecture. The NYS audit showed that the past city administration has been fiscally irresponsible for the past two terms. The Mayor has overly exerted her authority in too many aspects of municipal operations, often leaving the Common Council in the dark. The appointment of non-city residents to the Golf Commission is just one example. One also needs to look into why the long standing chairman of the city planning board suddenly resigned. The city runs by majority rule of our legislative body, composed of Aldermen that we elect to represent out best interests. This concept is much more important than who the next golf pro will be. The opinion of one executive, as well intentioned as it may be, will no longer rule OUR city.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’m not sure how the summary is trying to fool anyone. We have a clear choice between a business plan to make an extra $50k per year and another business plan to do the same old thing we’ve always done. Which do you think has the best chance of bringing in more revenue?

      • The analysis was done by the Mayor who to my knowledge does not have an accounting degree. It is also based on an increase of $32,000. In trail fees but does not state how this will be accomplished. The salary of the golf pro selected by the committee is double what we currently pay and he proposes hiring additional staff. Without the information from the Common Council interviews, we are left with a one sided story.

      • Tim Becker says:

        The analysis was done by the Golf Commission, not the Mayor. The report says Merendo has a staff of six others, Scott says he needs five others. I’m not sure if there is anything more to “accomplishing” a greens fee increase other than simply raising the price.

      • Whoever compiled the report, is obviosly a sham to get rid of Merendo. The Golf Commission accuses Merendo of consuming alcohol and being intoxicated on duty, for several years! What kind of governing body would mention that very sensitive allegation in a professional report and at the same time fail to provide factual information concerning dates, times and whether a breathalyzer was administered. It fails to mention if Merendo was indeed counseled for the alleged offense or offered some type of treatment by the Golf Commission. Why was this type of slanderous personal information, which would normally discussed in executive session, released to the public?

      • Tim Becker says:

        The report only says they received complaints – as long as they can back that up, then it’s not slander. Insensitive – yes.

        What about the other points in regards to the running the pro shop and course? Merendo offers absolutely nothing new except to lower prices even more. Scott’s proposal is far better in all respects in my opinion.

  3. rick says:

    the city always tries to squeeze every last dime out of the golf course, which over the last 10 to 20 years has put a heavy burden on the golfers the city. meanwhile shuttle worth park the amsterdam mohawk average between 1,000
    _ 1500 people per game. there are serious untappd revenues there!!! then the city of Amsterdam in there infinite wisdom decided not to let the fire department have their own ambulance service. another source of a new generated source of income. a lot more than the $50,000 projected at the golf course. where is the fiscal responsibility there!!! politics has Trumped fiscal responsibility before and it will again, this is done because we are a community not a cold heartless business machine!!! the Common Council decides every day which is worth more than a few dollars and cents or the destruction of our communities heritage.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Lapses in fiscal responsibility in one area doesn’t justify lapses in other areas. That argument only makes sense in a completely “tit for tat” partisan view. Neither party should be allowed to get away with it.

      So Rick, the next candidate that says “we should run the city like a business” – you will not be voting for that candidate, regardless of party. Correct?

      • rick says:

        Your correct two wrongs don’t make a right. At what point do we pick out battles. This seems like more of a power struggle at the golf course. There are bigger more lucrative revenues to be had, but are ignored. What is the word for this, ah yes POLITICS!!!

    • Michael Donnan says:

      To be fair the Mayor did address the GAVAC vs. AFD ambulance issue in her first term. She put out an RFP and the AFD put in a very professional proposal that would have been lucrative for the city. Unfortunately many of the people who stand by Joe the Pro also stood by GAVAC so the best option was blocked. However, the city didn’t come away nothing. We get $100,000 a year now that we weren’t before under the new contract with GAVAC.

      • rick says:

        The should be revisit the contract yearly and publicly post the earnings of GAVAC so the taxpayers can see what they are missing.

  4. Jessica Nole says:

    Politics or personal interests? A few people want something and the majority don’t. In a democracy, who wins? If the golf course closes, can we take our kids sledding on the hills? It’ll be the first time I make use of the “attraction”.

  5. bob stern says:

    I support review of the mayor’s proposal, and I have disagreed with Jerry in the past but he is right that comments about the allegations of alcohol abuse were unacceptable and should have been redacted from the report when published. As an employee of the city he deserves treatment accordingly. That was wrong every which way.

    • Dan Weaver says:

      I agree with you Bob. The report should have been redacted. When I read the part about Merendo’s alleged behavior, I decided not to upload the report to our web site.

      • Diane Hatzenbuhler says:

        Thank you Dan for that courtesy to someone that has devoted over 30 years to the City of Amsterdam and MUNI 🙂

      • steve says:

        Diane a couple questions? longevity does not mean that it has been done right. Just think how much revenue has been thrown away or overlooked for the past 30 years due to poor management and marketing from the current pro, i guarantee its a staggering number. also in another post you were supposed to find out some information for me but i have yet to hear from you? Diane do the city of Amsterdam a courtesy and make an informed decision because all of the questions i have asked you, you have yet to give me a solid answer with facts, so how can you justify your decision?

  6. Karl Baia says:

    The Mayors entire analysis contains faulty, inflated numbers and assumptions, combined with a self serving analysis written by herself. I know you guys at Mohawk Valley Compass are doing your best to cover the information, while writing opinion articles. I think it’s so blatant that the mayors “supporting information” is seriously flawed. I just don’t think that the Mohawk Valley Compass in being reasonable, can turn a blind eye to that fact.

    • Tim Becker says:

      A new business plan is always a projection and based on certain assumptions. You’ve made your own counter-assumptions about the plan and that’s fine, but I don’t see how that makes anything in the report faulty or erroneous.

      However, Merendo’s business plan has proven to be a failure as evidenced by declining membership over the years, and that’s not an assumption. So you think it’s better to stick with a failing plan rather than at least attempt something better?

      Both you an Jerry claim the Mayor wrote the report instead of the Golf Commission, but we have not seen any evidence to support that.

  7. steve says:

    You people need to get a clue. Joe has done nothing to improve business or operations at this course. If you actually read the veto he actually wanted to lower prices for members while proposing his same contract. everyone is crying that we need more members bu that is not how you are going to raise revenues. if you do the math some of these members play so much they actually get their rounds down to about 5 dollars a round. i think its good they put the stuff about them receiving complaints of Joe consuming alcohol while on duty. This is unacceptable, the fact that he hasn’t just been fired already is a wonder to me. Anyone who thinks promoting the course online is a bad idea this day in age is just ignorant. the reason he doesn’t want to do that i he wants the course to remain the way it is so all of his friends can continue to do whatever they want at the course. If any of the people commenting on here actually knows how a golf course should be run you would be as appalled as i am, the level of customer service is the lowest i have seen at any golf course i have been to. If anyone can give me a good reason to keep joe other than they think he is a nice guy or has been there a long time please let me know because i have yet to hear one yet.

    • Michael Donnan says:

      Other than the alcohol issue I think Steve gets to the heart of the matter. The golf course opens every year as quietly as a thief in the night. You don’t see Joe writing letters to the Recorder promoting the course and telling people it’s time to sign up for “membership”. He doesn’t go on the local radio stations and talk about the opening of the course. The truth is Joe and the “members” don’t want more golfers. Fewer golfers mean better tee times and more leisurely rounds for themselves.

  8. dave says:

    convert the golf course into a year round venue with nature trails like they have here in saratoga. we have cross country skiing and snow shoeing in the park around the golf course. with certain areas flagged off. there is a skating area as well.

  9. If fiscal responsibility is our main concern, we should consider privatization. This would take the city out of the picture, increase revenues through water use fees and taxes while keeping the golf course open. Change should start at the top and if there is a problem with current golf course operations, the first to go should be the entire Golf Commission. The city charter gives the Common Council power to abolish the commission.

  10. bob stern says:

    If Steve is correct, and much of what he said sounds true, it’s similar to what used to go on at Schenectady muni, where preferred tee times were handed out to friends, etc. It was also not a welcoming place to those who weren’t friends with the starter, no online presence or ability to reserve times. Municipal golf courses do not excel at customer service I’m sorry to say. In this case private contact to run the course with financial benefit to the city may be way to go. Let’s see if those republicans support privatization. If it does go private, that’s the end of Joe’s career.

    • rogo says:

      Schenectady muni also just awarded their current concessionaire the clubhouse at $19000 as opposed to a bid of $35000. They did it because of golfer complaint

  11. steve says:

    how come when anyone is asked to give facts and reasons they do not respond with answers. still waiting for some solid facts on why joe should be allowed to come back. also his contract was shot down by the last council why was it allowed to be re-voted on when the new council came in?

    • Rob Millan says:

      Steve,
      I asked for the same on another site or maybe it was here. All the answers seem to be, although not said, that the reason to keep Mr. Merendo is simply ‘he’s a nice guy’, damn all lack of any management acumen. No one has acknowledged the fact that Mr. Scott had a better résumé and business plan other than the Commission.

  12. Joe says:

    I have been a golfer and a member of Muni for almost 30 years. I also have played over 100 different courses both in and out of the area.In all of those years after I have played a course and thought would I play this course again,NEVER has my experience at the pro shop made a difference on my decision to go or not to go back to a particular course. Very seldom does any golfer spend more than 5 minutes in the pro shop,we pay our fees and play the course. People become repeat customers of a course because of the quality,condition,pace of play and the price of the course.Even when I have experienced a golf pro or golf shop personnel that were not very courteous,that experience was not a deciding factor if I would play the course again.

    To blame Joe Merendo for the decrease in membership is absurd. The reality is there are not as many people who play golf anymore,not just in Amsterdam,but all across the country. This is not my opinion,this comes from both Golf Digest and the USGA.The two major reasons for this is the economy and the amount of time it takes to play the game.Check with any course in the area,all of them have decreased memberships. Is Joe Merendo and his business plan the blame for these courses also? Blaming Joe for decreased memberships is like blaming an editor of a newspaper for decreased circulation.

    As far as discounting Joe’s plan for reduced cost of memberships,its easy to dismiss this when you only think one sided. The decrease in number of memberships is partly due to the increase in the price of the memberships, part also to less people living in the area. I think Joe has a point,if you reduce the price of the memberships you would hope to gain new members.The thing people dont always remember about a membership is you pay the money at the begining of the year,the course has that money,rain or shine. If the golf season is a rainy one you have the membership money. If the course depended only on daily greens fees then it makes the course more at the mercy of the weather year to year. Most courses strive to have a high membership rate for that reason. As far as some comments about people with a membership playing so much that the round comes down to five dollars,well for every person who does this there are also several that never play enough to justify a membership.

    But the bottom line is,like it or not,if the common council votes to overide the Mayors veto,they have every right to do just that,good or bad,thats why we have elections. The golf couse is a asset to this city,it should be treated as such

  13. steve says:

    Joe,
    currently the golf course is not an asset its a liability due to poor management. as far as people making a decision to play golf based on their experience you are absolutely wrong. typical people thinking of themselves instead of the whole. the key to making money is through daily fee play. you cite numbers are down look at the studies and you will see private clubs are hit the hardest. that’s right people do not want to pay for memberships they want choice. also it is joe’s fault membership is down he does nothing to advertise and does not foster a welcoming environment to new customers. it is the job of the head professional to grow the game. also there are not many value added services to entice membership to rise. that place is run to please his friends and benefit his pockets. if he was collecting greens fees i guarantee he would be trying a lot harder to grow rounds and revenue. if you want to be blind to the facts like everyone else that your prerogative. and as far as thinking one sided your are blind. look at the veto and see who is being one sided. lets do it like we always have and change nothing. sounds one sided to me.

  14. Joe says:

    Steve, as far as the golf course being a liability , show me some numbers that back up your statement. Then you say my statement about people making choices from personal experience is absolutely wrong. Then please enlighten me how you make choices where you spend your money and time. I know of not one person who does not make his or her choices of where they spend their money and time except from personal experience , you would be the first. I do agree that the way to make money is through daily greens fees, nothing new with that idea, every course has that business plan. They combine both memberships and greens fees other the hope to have as many members as possible and supplement that with daily fee players, just like a health club or gym would. The course needs both to survive. As far as Joe or any pro at the course offering as you said “many value added services to entice membership to rise” ,this a municipal golf course not a private one, not sure what services those would be or where there is a municipal course that have these services, for free! You say it’s the job of the pro to grow the game. Well Joe holds a free junior clinic every year open to all and it is promoted in the paper so people are aware, the biggest tournament every year at the course benifits junior golf with Joe being one of the biggest donors . Joe also has never charged a junior golfer for lessons, the entire time he has been at the course. If that’s not growing the game, I don’t know what is. You say the course is run by Joe for his friends and line his pockets. Joe’s friends and anyone else who plays the course all have to call the cashiers to reserve a tee time, this does not go through Joe at all, no way for Joe to play favorites. You say Joe is there to line his pockets, but you also say because he doesn’t collect greens fees he doesn’t care to grow revenue. Not sure how those two thoughts can coexist .

  15. steve says:

    Joe,
    the more you talk the more you contradict yourself. you talk about making a choice off of personal experience but in your last post and i quote ” I have played a course and thought would I play this course again,NEVER has my experience at the pro shop made a difference on my decision to go or not to go back to a particular course.” so tell me which one you want to go with. because it sounds like your personal experience in the proshop doesn’t matter therefore contradicting your last comment. just because you throw one free junior clinic you are all the sudden the best ambassador to the game. Ladies clinics, get golf ready, i do not see any of that going on there. There’s more to it that that.also if the paper is the only way you try to promote then you might as well not promote at all. you also state that’s its a municipal course not a private one then why is everyone pushing for more memberships? value added services don’t have to cost money. maybe he could be out getting older customers bags form the parking lot. taking credit cards in the pro shop and not having an ATM so he can charge you to get cash and to pay for stuff because he doesn’t take credit cards. as far as the numbers go look at the budget of the golf course for the past 3 years.

  16. Willy says:

    Steve:
    ,
    currently the golf course is not an asset its a liability due to poor management. Oh really. The golf course is for recreational usage. It is not a private entity attempting to make a bazillion dollar profit. It is there for recreation usage like the swimming pool .

    The key to making money is through daily fee play. Maybe in part, yes, but what happens in July- August when people make a choice to go to the track (Saratoga flats) instead of golfing that day. The membership fees cover that days non-play by the individual.

    also it is joe’s fault membership is down he does nothing to advertise and does not foster a welcoming environment to new customers. it is the job of the head professional to grow the game. Well lets see from searching on bing.com using the following: “ municipal golf course professional duties” I don’t believe it is joe’s fault for declining membership. Visit the Montgomery county website and view the Demographics for the county. http://www.city-data.com/city/Amsterdam-New-York.html
    Also see the job description for a golf pro below. I do not believe it states anywhere that the golf pro is required to be the person to advertise to get people to play (outside of the fact for tournament play). JMO, it should be the golf commission to promote .

    http://www.egovlink.com/public_documents300/mooresville/published_documents/Human%20Resources/Job%20Descriptions/G-L/HEAD%20PGA%20PROFESSIONAL.pdf

  17. steve says:

    willy this also a requirement:Maintains bookkeeping system for golf shop and snack shop on a daily basis; balances daily
    receipts, counts out cash drawer amounts; records amounts of overage or short falls;completes daily reports; takes deposits to bank nightly. i doubt any of this is going on since he has a cash only business how much of that never sees the register? Also i am a pga professional just because you find someones job posting doesnt mean that is the guideline for a pga head professional. try going on to a repected site such as the PGA. Well if the head pro did a better job of promoting the course through advertising through social media and using the internet instead of depending on bulletins maybe he could draw a bigger crowd. also customer service could be drastically improved to draw in play as well. but please fill me in on your golf course operations experience i would love to to see how much experience you have managing a course.

  18. steve says:

    Other Facility/Departmental Responsibilities

    • Work closely with all department heads to achieve the goals and objectives of the facility
    • Maintain a close working relationship with the Golf Course Superintendent and provide advice on course playability and tournament set up
    • Assist the Membership Sales Director in the promotion of new member leads and provide a supporting role in assisting with prospective members and orientation of new members
    • Coordinate plans with the Food and Beverage Manager for food and beverage needs for all golf functions
    this is taken straight from the pgalinks website unfortunately its a professional only login so i copied it for you to see. this was about only 1/4 of the responsibilities. but as you can clearly see it is in the job description, so before you go stating all these bogus facts please be informed.

  19. steve says:

    just because you are used to an under performing operation, does not mean thats the way its supposed to be. raise your expectations and you will be suprised of what gets accomplished. in this industry you have to be proactive not reactive if you want to achieve your goals if you have any. you cannot become complacent you have to always be working towards a better operation. if you look at the current facilities they need major work and without a good revenue coming in they will not have the money to make those updates without it coming out of the taxpayers pockets. also the course need a lot of work with grooming and upgrades so more money is needed to have a bigger maintenance budget to make that happen. with the current state of the course it will remain just the way it is until someone new comes in there and makes the change happen.

  20. bob stern says:

    I agree, that whoever the Pro is at a course never made a difference to me. That argument works both ways in this case. The problem is the whole structure, the management is part government, part commission, part Pro, part concession. When I have asked on that course on a Saturday afternoon I search for the Pro to see if I can get out as a single, then I walk to the cashier and pay with a visit car, then I walk back to the Pro shop to rent a cart, and pay cash. Then there is no starter and someone pulls up in a foursome ahead of me. This stuff may also happen at other courses, but not at the private ones.