Golf course deal needs third party look, say 2 Watertown lawmakers

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 5:29 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Two members of Watertown City Council believe an independent third party should look at the city’s recent $3.4 million deal to buy the former Watertown Golf Club, now called Thompson Park Golf Course.

It comes after comments made by council member Cliff Olney - comments that brought several questions from the interim city attorney.

“This is something that should be looked into by a third party,” said council member Sarah Compo Pierce.

She voiced her opinion after things Olney said at Monday night’s meeting.

Olney and interim City Attorney Todd Bullard began to discuss the deal when Olney said he was in contact with former course owner Mike Lundy and Ives Hill Country Club owner PJ Simao before a formal contract was signed.

“To me, that would sound like some sort of extortion, would it not,” asked Compo Pierce.

She went on to say Olney’s comments are concerning and may need to be looked at by state Attorney General Letitia James.

“At the very least, those items should have been disclosed and he should have recused himself,” said Compo Pierce.

Mayor Jeff Smith agrees that the deal should get a second look.

“It never hurts to have sunshine on something and a third party take a look at it,” he said.

When asked on Tuesday about his comments, Olney says although he has known Simao for many years, no formal discussions were ever had before the deal was put in place.

He also says Lundy had put forth interest to the city in selling the club before they met.

“I don’t know where anyone would get the idea that in any way I would consider what the 2 developers’ needs were before I decided what was in the best interest of the city,” said Olney.

Bullard asked Olney if he said yes to the deal because he was worried about potential lawsuits. Olney responded that a notice of claim from former owner Lundy over a patch of land that was once used as golf club parking made him curious about the idea.

That notice of claim was against the city and named Olney as well as council member Lisa Ruggiero. Doing the golf course deal kept that legal matter from moving forward.

“It was a choice between getting something for the residents and getting nothing because we decided to allow them to sue us and pay out legal expenses for defending a lawsuit,” said Olney.

Bullard says the idea of “extortion” is premature but his office will be taking a second look.

“I do want to look at the tape and what he stated because you know some of that I think could be analyzed and you have to put it into a larger context of this overall golf course transaction,” he said.

Bullard also admits it’s too early to say if someone like Attorney General Letitia James would need to get involved.

He says much of what was discussed was new information he hadn’t known and wants to take a deeper dive before making any further comment.

PJ Simao said he never had a conversation about the golf course deal with Olney, and that the details of the deal that was ultimately done were first talked about in an August 31st meeting with city leaders.