County supreme court rules in favor of Mayor Thane

Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Joseph M. Sise has ruled in favor of Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane in her lawsuit against the five city common council members over the signing of a contract for the well-liked golf professional Joe Merendo.

Aldermen had passed a resolution Jan. 1–their first day in office–approving a contract with  Merendo, longtime professional at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course. Thane vetoed the measure and did not sign the contract. The Common Council voted to override Thane’s veto, and Deputy Mayor and 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler signed the contract, prompting Thane to sue.

Some of the arguments on both sides had to do with interpretation of the city charter, including the powers of the mayor and the aldermen.

Thane’s lawyer, Paul Goldman, said the charter gives the council the right to award contracts, but not to negotiate them.

Michael Brockbank, lawyer for the aldermen, said afterwards that Sise might have ruled differently if the city charter gave the council the right to negotiate contracts, which it does not.

“[The judge] would have liked to see the word ‘negotiate’ in there,” he said.

Sise repeatedly asked both lawyers questions about their interpretation of the city charter.

“The charter does not have a provision allowing the council to negotiate contracts,” Sise said. “Where in the charter does it say the council can negotiate contracts?”

Brockbank said Amsterdam’s charter is different from Schenectady’s or Albany’s.

“The mayor has the right to veto any resolution, and the council may vote to override,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who brings it up; what we have in Amsterdam is passage, veto and override.”

After Sise announced his decision, Thane said she was relieved.

“I’m hoping Mr. Merendo and the council can negotiate in good faith,” she said.

But Thane said the whole proceeding had a deeper meaning than just one contract.

“This is not about the golf pro’s contract,” she said. “This is about the council trying to minimize the position of mayor.”

Third Ward Alderman Ronald Barone, an avid golfer, was the only council member not present at Wednesday’s court session. His colleagues said he had a medical appointment.

Hatzenbuhler said after court adjourned that the council members would talk to Barone before deciding what to do next. Brockbank told them their options were to negotiate with the mayor, to appeal Sise’s decision, or to change the city charter, which would require a referendum.

“You should consult amongst yourselves and then call me,” he said.

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John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.