Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, a Democrat, is in the unenviable position of having a Common Council with four Republicans and one Democrat, who generally goes along with the Republicans.
In spite of repeated assurances by its members of their willingness to cooperate with the mayor, the Council seems to have had from its very first meeting, which I attended, an agenda that appears to be anything but cooperative and not in the best interests of the city.
The primary focal point of their current agenda is the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, one of the city’s prime assets, designed by noted architect Robert Trent Jones.
Membership at the course dropped from a high of 750 to 390 in 2012. And while it is true that many golf courses have suffered from the economic downturn of the last six years, according to most of the reports I read in preparing this piece, golf is on its way back up. Courses that have adjusted to meet our ever-changing world are the ones that are succeeding.
For example, a report from HSBC on the future of golf predicts a number of things. Here are just two of them. “Golf clubs and golf courses will become more family-friendly. There will be family rooms instead of bars, holes set up for younger players, and certified women-friendly facilities. Six- and nine-hole formats, and other short-forms, complement the 18-hole tradition.”
Some courses have already made these changes. Some have even installed on-site day care centers. While some of these things may not work in Amsterdam, the point is that the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course needs to change but has not been willing to.
The Golf Commission sent out requests for proposals, and received several good ones. Joseph Merendo, who has been the golf pro for nearly 30 years and whose contract had expired, submitted his current contract with a cover letter and no proposals for how to improve the golf course, although he did mention a few in his interview. According to a report issued by the Golf Commission after it interviewed Merendo and three other pros, Merendo does not see the Internet as an effective marketing tool. That statement alone is troubling.
The commission’s report said that any of the three new respondents would operate the golf course at a profit but recommended that the course contract with Richard Scott, a pro from Johnstown.
However, the Common Council is adamant about keeping Merendo and maintaining the status quo. The Council voted to give the contract to him in spite of the commission’s report, and when the mayor vetoed the resolution, they overrode the veto.
All of this happened even though Mayor Thane offered what I thought was a creative compromise that would have allowed Merendo to stay on as pro and brought Scott on board as general manager and still save the city money.
Having two pros at the course would have made the course more attractive. Merendo’s friends, some of whom threatened to leave the course if he were not rehired, would have been mollified. Meanwhile, Scott would have given the course a shot in the arm. Utilizing new ideas, membership would have grown and the course would probably have stopped losing money, as the commission says it has for several years.
The Common Council’s unwillingness to accept the win-win proposal by the mayor is simply baffling, particularly in light of their often-stated desire to be cooperative. It also does not line up with the fiscally conservative position of most of the Council members. It would appear that partisanship has won out over common sense.
The failure of the Council, less than one month into a new term, to consider a compromise that was in the best interests of the city has created a deep division in the city, and an illegal meeting held by the Council on Jan. 29 has only made matters worse. Two of its members did take responsibility for the meeting, and I respect them for that.
No one expects the Common Council to walk in lockstep with the mayor. Disagreement is inevitable. Healthy debate is good. However, respecting your opponent’s opinions and giving careful attention to them is necessary if the Council and the mayor are going to work together. The mayor may not be perfect, but on this occasion it was the Council that did not give the mayor’s compromise careful consideration.
It seems clear to me from their unanimous resolution authorizing the mayor to sign a contract with Mr. Merendo, which they presented in their first meeting right after being sworn in, that they had talked together and made up their mind on this issue before they were officially Council members.
That “I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts” attitude does not bode well for political discourse and action. If these clown acts continue, Amsterdam is headed for two years of a three-ring circus.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.