Why we need to keep following the golf course issue even though we’re all sick of it

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Photo by Daniel Szwalkiewicz

The golf course debate is about much more that just a contract dispute. As it drags on into its third month, it’s important that city residents remember the bigger issues that are at stake here and remain engaged and vocal about it.

Do we or do we not look for every opportunity to improve revenue for the city?

We all have to take a consistent stance when it comes to evaluating the city’s assets and their associated costs and revenue potentials. Defenders of the status quo at the golf course have asked why we don’t take a similar look at other parks, such as Shuttleworth and Riverlink, which also have commercial viability. In my opinion, we should evaluate those situations as well.

I’ll tell you what, if you take out the unfounded allegations and the hostile tone of the common council’s grilling of Recreation Director Rob Spagnola in regards to the artificial turf project at Shuttleworth, most of the questions were fairly reasonable. But Spagnola presented a well thought out plan that would save the city money over time. He pointed to his own budget request for the year which was lower than last year’s in anticipation of reduced maintenance costs. So far, the council has not refuted that plan with any solid numbers of their own.

And so it is with the golf course. The Golf Commission put in writing a plan that would potentially increase revenues. Certainly, the viability of the plan can be debated. But the common council has yet to go on record with any solid numbers to refute any of the plan points other than to say “I don’t see it.” They have yet to put in writing their own plan to improve the golf course other than to suggest that they oversee the golf course operations themselves. Which leads to the next big issue…

What should the balance between executive and legislative powers be?

At any level of government, there has always been a tension between the powers of the executive and legislative branches. The way I see it, this tension was by design. The original founding fathers wanted to make sure that each branch served as a check and balance to the other.

And so it is with city politics as well. It seems to me based on the actions I’ve seen, is that the larger goal of the common council in this debate is to increase the power of the council and diminish the power of the mayor. The council could have opposed the mayor’s plan by simply voting down any new contract for a golf pro who wasn’t Joe Merendo. Instead, by negotiating their own contract with Merendo, they are trying to set a new precedent that could have ramifications for years to come.

Thinking members of either party need to remember that political majorities are often fleeting. If Republicans succeed in increasing the power of the council, that could easily come back to bite them if we were to have a Democrat controlled council and a Republican mayor someday. We ought to be thinking about getting the right balance between the branches rather than changing the rules to suit whichever side happens to have the majority at the moment.

Are we going to invest in Amsterdam’s future or not?

Whether you personally like Mayor Ann Thane or not, it’s hard to refute that she is one of the few elected officials who actually puts forth a vision for progress in Amsterdam and actually works toward it. Now it’s fine to question and criticize her plans. It’s fine for the common council to put the “brakes” on if needed to reign in spending. But what’s not OK to me is to try to take the wheel from someone who is driving without having any idea as to where you are going yourself! The way I see it, none of the candidates in the last election (Democrat or Republican) presented any type of well thought out vision for a successful city. To me it’s a given that we’ll have to consider spending cuts for this year’s new budget. But we also have to invest wisely if we are ever going to increase revenues. If you only use the brakes and never touch the gas pedal, you’ll eventually end up at a standstill. To me, that is the larger issue for Amsterdam at stake in this golf course debate.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.