WATERTOWN — State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky reserved decision Thursday on whether the city’s lease with the Watertown Golf Club in Thompson Park should be voided as a matter of law.
The judge said he would issue a ruling in about four weeks after hearing oral arguments on motions for summary judgment from attorneys representing the city, the golf club and Ives Hill Country Club, whose owner, P.J. Simao, initiated legal action in November claiming the lease violates state General Municipal Law, legally necessitating that the agreement be voided and that the city retake possession of the property.
Mr. Simao contends that two leases entered into by the city with Watertown Golf Club should be voided because former Mayor Joseph M. Butler Sr. had a prohibited conflict of interest when he signed the leases, signing one in 2000 as mayor while also being a member of the club’s board of directors and signing a second in 2006 as club president after leaving office.
Mitchell J. Katz, a Syracuse attorney representing the city, told Judge McClusky that a 1983 statute enacted by the state Legislature “unambiguously” authorized the city to “alienate” previously dedicated park land and enter into a lease with the golf club and to do so in a manner deemed in the best interest of the city by the City Council. He said the authorization given by the state for the city to lease the land makes Mr. Butler’s alleged conflict of interest “inconsequential,” coupled with Mr. Butler’s disclosure in 2000 that he had a small ownership interest in the club and abstention from voting on the lease.
Mr. Katz also argued that statutes of limitations required an action challenging the lease’s legality to be filed within three years of its execution, meaning the 2000 lease needed to be challenged no later that January 2003 and the 2006 lease no later than December 2009. He said the leases were in effect at the time Mr. Simao acquired Ives Hill and that the leases were matters of public knowledge.
“Why in 2019 are we arguing about what took place in 2006?” Mr. Katz said to Judge McClusky. “The city has the right to say it’s too late. It’s too late to bring this up.”
Steven G. Leventhal, Roslyn, Nassau County, an attorney representing Ives Hill, said the statute of limitations is inapplicable because the 2000 lease was void from the beginning owing to Mr. Butler’s allegedly prohibited involvement. Similarly, the 2006 agreement would also be void because it was an extension of the 2000 agreement, not a separate contract.
“The 2006 lease was identical, word for word, to the 2000 lease,” Mr. Leventhal said. “It was a modification and extension of the same contract.”
The 2006 lease runs through Dec. 31, 2029, and presently requires the golf club to make annual lease payments of $9,318 for use of 66 acres of city-owned land, an amount Mr. Simao claims is below fair market rates and represents a subsidy from the city for his competitor.
Since litigation began in November, the golf club has sold its assets to Watertown developer Michael E. Lundy. It is envisioned that the club’s lease with the city would be transferred to Mr. Lundy.